It was remarkable that Carson Wentz went from sitting on the North Dakota State bench for three years to becoming the No. 2 overall draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles. Not only that, he missed half of one of the two years he was the Bison starter.
Easton Stick took the reins from Wentz and his career was steady and stellar. The fact he, too, was drafted had more of a predictable touch to it.
Enter Trey Lance.
We may be now back to remarkable.
As a freshman, he started one season, albeit one of the greatest years in Division I FCS history with 28 touchdowns, no interceptions and a 16-0 season. He was a one-man offensive show in the title game victory over James Madison.
That came after his recruitment out of Marshall, Minn., where at least one FBS school wanted him as a linebacker. Boise State came in late, but otherwise the prospectus of Lance being a quarterback who could come out early for the NFL Draft after just one season as the Bison starter seemed outrageous.
Make that one season and one game. He’ll be under center Saturday when the Bison host Central Arkansas at 2:30 p.m. at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome.
As a true freshman and seemingly baby-faced, Lance enrolled at NDSU at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds. Now a sophomore, he will enter the game Saturday at 6-4 and 226 pounds.
“I think I’ve gotten a lot better mentally and physically; bigger, stronger, faster is something you always want to focus on,” he said. “But my body just feels a lot better. I probably feel the best I’ve felt in a long time, especially going through everything in the offseason.”
He’s also gotten to be the face of Bison football, on and off the field. In late May, he was part of the Black Lives Matter peaceful protest in downtown Fargo, an event where Lance was one of the notable public figures. He posted his participation on his Twitter account.
“It’s been really cool, I’ve been able to realize the platform that I have along with a lot of the other guys on the team,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of great intentional conversations with people both in and outside of our program, people in the community, things like that. It’s been really cool for me, an awesome experience for me and I’ve learned a ton, both about myself and about the guys around me, leadership qualities, things like that.”
Lance started a virtual Bible study session group consisting mostly of younger people when the pandemic hit. If there is one common denominator between the last four Bison quarterbacks, all of whom have or will play professionally, it is faith.
Brock Jensen, Wentz, Stick and Lance all freely talked about it in interviews. But the pandemic has also been restrictive to Lance in visiting schools and local hospitals and whatever community service projects he had in mind.
He’s no longer a kid from Marshall, Minn., with the promise of replacing Stick. He is the guy.
Entz said Lance does a good job of “internalizing” his feelings and the more he’s gotten to know his quarterback, the more he sees maturity and poise about matters on and off the field.
“It’s been hard,” Lance said. “Going to visit schools or children’s hospitals once a week or once every two weeks, last year during this time. It’s been a lot different, it’s trying to find that happy medium between getting out in the community but also keeping myself safe enough and keeping the guys safe enough so that I’m not being exposed to anyone with the virus and then I would bring it to my teammates and coaches. It’s trying to figure out the bigger picture. There are lines you can’t cross.”
Lance said he’s leaned on his family in Marshall - parents Carlton and Angie Lance and brother Bryce - his Bison teammates and the NDSU coaching staff starting with head coach Matt Entz.
"They’ve been my rock throughout this whole process,” he said. “They’ve made it really easy. It hasn’t been stressful for me at all and they just keep reminded and I remind myself my job is to play football here at North Dakota State and that’s what I love to do.”
The main coaching family consists of Entz, offensive coordinator Tyler Roehl and quarterbacks coach Randy Hedberg. The four of them spent a lot of time since the pandemic shutdown focusing on the mental side of the game.
“Just being able to break down more defenses, more NFL tape, things like that,” Lance said. “And physically from the quarterback standpoint just watching as many throws of myself as I can, breaking those throws down and going through pros and cons of mechanics.”
After Central Arkansas, speculation turns to the pros and cons of the NFL. Entz said he’s met with NFL decision makers and is trying to give Lance as much information as he can.
“Trey is really mature,” Roehl said. “He has really good composure, especially for a 20-year-old. He’s got a really strong support system at home with his parents; they’ve raised him the right way. The fun thing you see at practice with Trey is his level of excitement, the urgency and the energy that you saw on Day 1 when he came to campus. I don’t think you would notice if you didn’t hear any of the buzz in the media of what’s going on. He’s handling it like a true professional.”
(Editor's note: This story is part of The Forum's Bison Game Day print section available to combo subscribers and on sale Saturday morning wherever single-copy Forums are sold)