Wentz passed his first test with the Philadelphia media on Friday. Now, can he survive in the fire of the city, and the NFL?
Carson Wentz took a seat in a black leather chair, exposing blue-and-green argyle socks worn under lace-less brown dress shoes. An hour removed from being introduced as the Eagles’ next great hope, he was already thinking about heading back to North Dakota.
"I’m going home tomorrow to get my ducks in a row," he said, settling into the leather. He’s going to look for a place to live a little later, so he doesn’t have to worry about it right now.
Wentz has been plenty busy in the last 48 hours. He went from a draft prospect, to a Philadelphia Eagle, to a man actually sitting in Philadelphia. Before Friday, he had spent just 24 hours in the city. Nearly every other day of his life was spent in North Dakota.
It’s a big change.
"Even when I’ve been trying to sleep, I haven’t been getting much the last couple of days," Wentz said to CBS 3’s Don Bell as the two chatted quietly before shooting a stand-up shot on Friday afternoon.
On first impression, Wentz sports a relentless smile, a handshake built to throw a football, and an easy confidence reminiscent of another recent Eagles rookie sensation: Jordan Hicks.
The kid from a small town in the fourth-least-populous state in the country handled his first onslaught of Philadelphia media without a misstep, a feat few can trumpet. Now, it’s time to see if the FCS star can turn into a winner on the biggest stage in football.
If you ask Wentz about the shift from small-town school to the NFL — just like everyone else has — he doesn’t seem concerned. He almost seems slighted by the thought. He thinks he could have competed at the FBS level in college.
"Yeah, absolutely. I knew I could," Wentz said. "Obviously I didn’t regret where I ended up: I walked out of there with five national championships, and no regrets with that. But I’d see it on Saturdays. I didn’t watch a lot of it; we’d play our games, and then it was family time and all that. But when I’d see it, I would think, ‘There’s no reason I can’t do that.’"
It’s one thing to watch games, and even film, and tell yourself you can handle what you’re watching. You have the benefit of the rewind button. It’s another thing entirely to compete against those guys, who were recruited by Nick Saban because they are, undoubtedly, the best he could find.
Wentz knew he had to show out at the Senior Bowl.
If you remember, that’s around the time his name started to pick up steam in draft circles. Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson said Thursday that the Senior Bowl is when they started to see Wentz — and Jared Goff — separate themselves from the rest of the draft class.
"I thought [the Senior Bowl] was huge," Wentz said. "Some guys choose not to go, but when I was invited, I was like, ‘If I’m healthy, I’m going. Why wouldn’t I?’ If there’s a dirt field in the back yard, I’ll go play. I’ll compete wherever, and that’s what I did, and I just had fun. I played ball, and I thought it went pretty well."
Wentz firmly believes that football is just that. Give the man a ball, and he’ll throw it to the open receiver, no matter where he happens to be standing.
In his first career start, at Iowa State, he got a taste of the big-time. In 2014, Jack Trice Stadium held 54,000 people, a far cry from the Fargodome’s 19,000.
Nothing Wentz couldn’t handle.
"To be honest, I loved it," he said, grinning. "I was like, ‘Let’s get more people here,’ you know? Because once the game starts, it’s just a ball game."
Wentz is right, to a degree. Football is football is football. The rules are, save a few, effectively the same.
Which is why it’s everything surrounding the games, then, that make this transition so intriguing to watch.
In college, Wentz used to spend the rare free Saturday hunting waterfowl, geese, deer — you name it. He would take the downtime to find a little reprieve and appreciate the natural beauty of his home state.
Within the first 60 seconds of his name being announced in Chicago, his official Twitter account had tweeted out a message sponsored by Tide.
This is not the same world he lived in when he was just a 5-foot-8 freshman in Bismarck, or even when he was a junior starting quarterback at North Dakota State.
As he spoke with CSN’s John Clark on Friday, Derrick Gunn recorded a segment about seven feet away, barking Sam Bradford’s name and discussing the ongoing quarterback controversy. There is drama awaiting Wentz in Philadelphia, the kind that can only be assuaged by his playing excellent football. And even then, this city has shown itself as sleepless as any in the world when their sports teams are involved. There are going to be far fewer hunting trips to find shelter. The spotlight is hot in Philadelphia.
Yet, for now, it seems Wentz is prepared to handle whatever comes his way.
Near the end of his relaxed media session, in that black leather chair, he was asked about the injury that sidelined him for part of his senior season at North Dakota State.
Like he was reading a box score, Wentz jumped into description.
"It was the second drive of the game, third and 13, drop back, got flushed from the pocket, scrambled, threw deep, and just kind of got pushed and landed on it like this," he says, flattening his hand and pressing it to the floor. "I didn’t think much of it. I knew it hurt, but I played the whole game, got it taped, and then went in on Sunday and found out it was broken. I was crushed."
He paused for a split second.
"It was tough," he said, "but about an hour later I was over it, and thinking of what was next."
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