The first time I heard the name Carson Wentz was two years ago. My wife is from Iowa and she roots hard for the Hawkeyes. So, anytime Iowa's rival, Iowa State, loses it's a good day at the Watkins house.
In his first game as the full-time starter at North Dakota State University, Wentz tore through the Iowa State defense and upset the Cylones in Ames.
I was impressed. Even as a FCS power, NDSU isn't supposed to beat a Division I program by 20 on the road Wentz went 18-for-28 for 204 yards with no interceptions in that August 2014 game.
Fast forward to early January 2016, where Wentz and NDSU are on the verge of winning a 5th straight FCS national title. That's where the legend of Carson Wentz exploded onto the national scene. Why? America's Team will likely draft a quarterback with the No. 4 pick, and one of the top prospects was coming to North Texas to show off his skills. That's a mouthful, because it's not very often when the Dallas Cowboys are in position to draft a top quarterback.
When Wentz showed up to Toyota Stadium in Frisco, few knew about the 6 foot 5 inch strong-armed quarterback. A month later, he might be a high first round pick. Wentz didn't tear through Jacksonville State in the championship game the way he did with Iowa State almost two years prior, but he was the best player on the field. To his credit, rust may have been a factor. The FCS national championship game was his first appearance since breaking the wrist of his throwing arm in October 2015.
I talked to a lot of folks close to the North Dakota State program, and they had plenty of nice things to say about the quarterback. Wentz is smart. For the last three years, he's carried a 4.0 GPA.He'll "wow" coaches during the evaluation process, where he'll be asked to interpret and diagram plays on a white board. I spoke with him personally, and he's a charismatic, confident young man.
The most interesting thing I learned is how he caused internal debate among the NDSU coaches, in a good way. Former NDSU quarterback Brock Jensen led the Bison to three consecutive national titles from 2011-13. By the time Wentz shed his red-shirt following the 2011 season, he was the better of the two quarterbacks. It put the coaching staff in a tough position. Jensen is leading NDSU to championships, but he wasn't even the best quarterback on the team. How do you bench a guy who doesn't know how to lose? He didn't get benched, and the wins kept coming. Wentz got his shot in 2014 once Jensen graduated and NDSU won two more national titles.
The Cowboys will know more about Wentz than any other team when the NFL Draft starts on April 28. Jason Garrett and his staff are coaching the North team in the Senior Bowl. That game is on Saturday. Wentz is a quarterback on the North squad. This exclusive interaction with Wentz gives the Cowboys a huge advantage if they're considering him with the No. 4 pick in the draft.
During the practices this week, Wentz received mixed reviews. However, nothing is mixed when comparing Wentz to the other quarterbacks at the Senior Bowl. He's clearly the top prospect. Will Wentz's game performance matter during this evaluation process? Probably not. He'll only get in a few series because there are three other quarterbacks on the North squad. At this point, the Cowboys already know if he's an option with the No. 4 pick. Garrett, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and quarterback coach Wade Wilson have spent almost every waking moment over the last several days with Wentz getting him ready for this game.
The 23-year-old prospect has come along way since beating Iowa State in August 2014, and now the NFL football community is taking notice.