Dickinson Trinity football coach John Odermann watches Carson Wentz and sees a professional football player he has no problem with his players emulating.
Odermann is one of many North Dakota high school coaches who appreciate the former North Dakota State quarterback’s humility, and the way he carries himself publically and wears his religious views on his sleeve. Most of all, he hopes his players and others throughout the state are paying close attention to Wentz’s character as he begins his NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles.
In an age where professional athletes are under a microscope with character flaws exposed and amplified through both social and traditional media, Wentz has shown the ability to rise above and stand apart from all that.
The Eagles selected Wentz second overall in the NFL Draft Thursday night in Chicago — the highest pick ever for both an FCS-level player and a North Dakotan.
Even if he doesn’t turn out to be an NFL star, Odermann and others are hopeful Wentz can become someone the youngest generation of football fans — particularly those in North Dakota — want to emulate.
Why? Because it’s cool to be like Carson.
“Carson Wentz stands for a lot of things that I really encourage a lot of my kids to stand for,” Odermann said. “He’s a good man, first and foremost. Being a good man is more important than being a good football player. From all accounts, Carson Wentz is a good football player and a good man.”
It’s likely that if Wentz indeed does become a star, many of the North Dakota’s youngest generation will grow up as Eagles fans in Vikings, Packers and Broncos households. At the very least, a lot of people across the state now have a second-favorite team.
Though he’s not an Eagles fan, that sits just fine with Mandan High School football coach Todd Sheldon, a Regent native who coached against Wentz’s Century High School teams. Sheldon said he already uses Wentz as an example of how players should carry themselves on and off the field.
“When you see guys in the NFL making mistakes and doing things they shouldn’t do, trying to bring attention to themselves … he’s been an athlete that’s about the team, being a part of the team, what it means to be a part of a team, how you carry yourself as part of a team — all of things are qualities that are hard to instill in kids without being a positive role model,” Sheldon said.
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock went even further than that a week ago during a conference call, saying Wentz has “folk hero” potential should he find success in the league. He’s not worried about Wentz going to the play in front of notoriously harsh Eagles fans and media, either.
“If you’re talking about having a passion and being the face of a franchise, this is the kid,” Mayock said. “I do believe he’ll handle Philadelphia, because he’ll work so hard and be so humble. I think the blue-collar Philly fans are going to love him.”
Wentz’s story — going from being a once-undersized and then overlooked high school player to a college backup before finally growing into the national star — will likely be used by coaches throughout North Dakota as inspirational fodder for years to come.
“There’s just so many great, phenomenal layers you can take and apply as a coach to the Carson Wentz story,” Odermann said. “It’s just great that we have that ability to do that here in North Dakota. And I think it adds a couple dimensions to it, the fact that is he from North Dakota.”
Then there are those who believe the spotlight placed on Wentz throughout the leadup to the draft may also eventually lead to college coaches from across the nation paying closer attention to North Dakota’s often overlooked top high school football players, who like Wentz, typically end up at NDSU or the University of North Dakota. A rare few leave the state for bigger opportunities.
“He’ll help raise the level of play of football and caliber of football in North Dakota,” Odermann said. “I think that’s one of the reasons people are so excited about Carson Wentz. It does so many things for us as a state, in terms of being taken seriously on an athletic level, on a sports level. When you have a guy like that come from a small state that hasn’t had any real stars … I hope it all pans out. Even if it doesn’t, the fact that this happens shines a good light on the things going on in North Dakota.”
Nate Moody, a Dickinson native who was one of Wentz’s receivers for the Bison the past five years, said he thinks there’s a chance — however slim — that something like this can happen again. Someday.
“I don’t know how far into the future,” Moody said with a laugh. “Probably a long ways. Just to be a high school kid playing in North Dakota, first of all, is really tough to get any kind of exposure. Carson is a prime example of that. … Fargo was his best solid offer.”
Now that the draft hype is over, North Dakotans will start following his NFL journey.
One of them is state Rep. Mike Schatz, who coached New England-Regent to four 9-man state football championships before retiring. Schatz said he foresees households across the state following Wentz throughout his NFL career. His included, he said. Every week. Regardless of if Wentz is starting for the Eagles or not.
“It’s going to be huge for the entire state, because every time he puts on the helmet and plays, we’re going to be watching,” Schatz said.