FARGO, N.D. -- It’s not easy to impress Gil Brandt. In his 83 years as essentially the most celebrated and accomplished NFL talent scout, well, ever it takes a lot to turn his head.
But the verdict was clear Thursday morning as the octogenarian slowly made his way to the sidelines: The man had been blown away. How -- he was asked by onlookers from the Fargodome stands -- did Carson Wentz do?
“I thought,” Brandt after watching North Dakota State’s quarterback at his pro day, “he was off the charts.
“There will be a lot of people finding Fargo, North Dakota, to work him out.”
Not that all 32 NFL teams didn’t want to be here to see an FCS quarterback with only 23 career starts who threatens to rewrite draft history. Wentz’s pro day was a must-see doubly Thursday for those NFL coaches and executives who didn’t see it. They were shut out, grounded by a Midwest snowstorm.
Only 18 teams made it to this quaint town 155 miles from the Canadian border. What they saw was a faith-based, hyper competitive, coyote-hunting prospect who made good on the hype. For now.
Even if it was a tightly scripted 65-throw workout before media, friends, boosters and family at North Dakota State’s indoor stadium.
Wentz missed on only three of those passes (all overthrows) then declared, “I wanted to be perfect. I wanted to be 65 for 65.”
Be aware: Prospects are molded and coached and prepared for these things. It’s an upset if they don’t complete 99 percent of their passes against air. Still, folks were shaking their heads after the drill. It was all there: the perfect drops, the bootlegs, the arm. Oh, the arm.
“Accuracy, athletic ability,” gushed Brandt, the longtime Cowboys player personnel director.
It 's becoming clear now that the Carson Wentz story has legs -- not just the ones the quarterback nimbly rolled out on Thursday. The tale is real. It’s (probably) going to happen at least as far as the draft goes.
There are lower level college players who make the NFL each year. (Remember the Kurt Warner story?) But almost none of them are Football Championship Subdivision quarterbacks drafted in the top five. That’s what would happen if the Cleveland Browns -- as mock drafted by some -- take Wentz at No. 2.
Almost none of them were 5-foot-8, 125-pound high school freshmen before experiencing a massive growth spurt to 6-foot-5, 235 pounds. Surely none of them missed 10 games as a college senior before -- dramatically -- returning to win a national championship in his final game.
How often does an NFL franchise quarterback have that back story?
“Very seldom,” Brandt said. “In today’s accelerated [world] … it doesn’t happen very often.”
Try ... never.
Since Steve McNair in 1995 (Alcorn State), only one other FCS quarterback has been drafted in the first round. That was Delaware’s Joe Flacco in 2008. But even he transferred from Pittsburgh.
“When I was the defensive coordinator at Northern Iowa, Flacco beat us in the playoff,” North Dakota State coach Chris Klieman said. “I had something to compare it to. I don’t know if he’ll have anywhere near the career Joe did.
“But from a stature standpoint, from an arm standpoint, you could tell who the best player on the field was when we played Delaware. Every time Carson came on the field, you knew who the best player was.”
So the question remains: How did Wentz slip through the cracks? You look at that pro-ready body and wonder how it stayed here for five years. It should have been at one of the local favorites -- Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, even Nebraska.
How did they all miss?
“When you grow up in North Dakota, you don’t grow up wanting to go to Nebraska,” Klieman said. “You grow up wanting to be a Bison.”
These Bison would make Alabama blush. They’ve won five consecutive national championships. Craig Bohl won three in a row from 2011-13 before bolting for Wyoming. Klieman, with Wentz at quarterback, has won the last two.
In 2014, there was a come-from-behind job against Illinois State in the championship game. After rehabbing a broken wrist for 10 weeks, Wentz returned for the 2015 title game in January beating Jacksonville State 37-10.
“His ability to process information is second to none,” Klieman said. “He’s a 4.0 student. His memory is just unbelievable.”
Did we mention a 40 on the Wonderlic?
Wentz is from Bismarck, about two-and-a-half hours west of here. He was a three-sport star who didn’t play quarterback his junior season because of thumb and shoulder injuries. That put him behind in the recruiting cycle. Most major programs offer quarterbacks after their junior season.
“They [major programs] just don’t recruit here,” said offensive coordinator Tim Polasek. “A kid like that who is playing three sports is not going to go on some traveling 7 on 7 team.”
Polasek sums it up bluntly: “You’re looking for your skill [players] in other places.”
North Dakota State is about as close to an FBS program as there is. NDSU’s athletic budget is $20 million. Its Fargodome holds 19,000. Season tickets will be sold out within minutes when they go on sale in August. The tailgates are legendary.
No one cares here if FCS is limited to only 63 scholarships (FBS maximum is 85). Since 2006, the Bison are 8-3 against FBS competition. They open 2016 against Iowa. Klieman says calls from FBS schools have dried up. The Bison are too big a risk.
By all rights, NDSU should be playing in FBS. There’s money here. North Dakota is the nation’s No. 2 oil-producing state. Microsoft has an office here. The population is booming.
Because of all that, maybe a Wentz was bound to happen sooner or later. Klieman said his quarterback is “not only the best quarterback in FCS, he’s the best in college football.”
Jon Gruden famously called Wentz the most NFL-ready quarterback he’s seen in years. One NFL team came to town and broke down all of Wentz’ two-minute drives. That team concluded that in recent years only Jameis Winston and Wentz had such a high percentage of those drives end in touchdowns.
Wentz basically began blowing up at the Senior Bowl in late January. The game’s best seniors get an in-depth look from NFL coaches for a week in Mobile, Alabama.
“Every day you kind of had to reaffirm he was the best quarterback on the field because I was a skeptic,” CBS Sports draft analyst Rob Rang said. “I couldn’t believe my own eyes. In my mind, he’s a first-round draft pick all day long.”
The kid is a product of his environment. Polasek recalls the quarterback bolting for hunting trips after Saturday home game and being back in time for Sunday meetings.
“He’d drive his truck out west after games and hunt from 4 [a.m.] until noon,” Polasek said. “I’m breaking down the game tape and I’ve got the Packers on. I’m [calling] Carson, 'Turn it on, Aaron Rodgers is lighting it up.’
“He said, ‘Coach, I can’t take the call right now, I’m on a coyote. Leave me alone.’"
For the record, Wentz is a multi-species guy: “Birds, deer, coyotes -- whatever I can find.”
Whatever team drafts him, they’re not getting complications.
“There is not going to be a YouTube video of him drinking and slapping some girl on the ass,” Polasek said.
“I told the NFL scouts, if you ask him to work 60 hours, he’s going to work 80 hours. In that off time, he’s going to be with his two companions -- his dog and he’s got a significant other [girlfriend].”
Wentz’ competitiveness borders on unreasonable. He and backup quarterback Easton Stick were nannies last summer, babysitting to earn spending money. Wentz, Stick said, had to win playing Wiffle Ball with the kids.
How old were the kids?
“Nine, 10, 11,” Stick said.
Polasek challenged Wentz to a game of “500.” The combatants stand 10 yards away from each other firing footballs at the head (100 points per catch) and chest (50 points). First one to catch 500 points wins.
“I beat him,” Polasek said. “Next day … boom, nails it. He beats me. I get pissed. He said, ‘Let’s do this the next day.’ I haven’t beaten him since.
Cathy Anhalt, Wentz’ mother, says her son berates her when she wins at Monopoly.
“He just doesn’t take losing well,” she said. “When he was little, we’d kind of wake up in the morning and tip toe around. You’d have to know what kind of mood Carson was in. He set the stage.”
Anhalt grimaced a bit when the Browns were mentioned as a potential destination for her son.
“If we could go to the 49ers, somewhere warm,” she said. “I’m all about warm.”
Meanwhile, the NFL is all about falling in love with this unlikely prospect from the hinterland. Cleveland offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton threw in a change up late in the workout, squirting water on the ball as Wentz was about to drop back. The first throw went into the ground.
Wentz quickly adjusted to the slippery ball, finishing smoothly.
“I just want a team to believe in me,” he said.
It’s obvious, even if the entire NFL wasn’t here, that several already do.