FARGO, N.D. (AP) — James Hendricks came to North Dakota State as a highly touted quarterback with monster numbers, eager to follow in the footsteps of Bison stars Carson Wentz and Brock Jensen.
When it became clear that Easton Stick was next in line to take over at QB, Hendricks was asked by coaches and others if he would be interested in switching positions.
"I was actually asked that question quite a bit," Hendricks said. "And I was like, 'No, absolutely not. I don't want to do that.'"
But he did. And the junior is now a standout safety, earning first-team all-Missouri Valley Football Conference honors this season. And Stick? Well, he has been quite good.
The senior who owns school records for total offense, passing touchdowns and total touchdowns will try for his 46th victory Saturday when the top-ranked Bison (11-0) begin their quest for their seventh FCS title in eight years with a home playoff game against Montana State (8-4). A victory would get him within two of the school record held by Jensen, who guided the team to FCS titles in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
While Bison coach Chris Klieman has a whopping 15 all-conference players to brag about this season, he knows the significance of the player taking the snaps.
"You look at the best teams in the NFL and the best teams in major college football as well as FCS, they have a trigger man," Klieman said. "We're so excited because we have a guy who has been here, done this, for a number of years in the playoffs."
Klieman recalled when Stick, from Omaha, Nebraska, cracked the lineup as a redshirt freshman after Wentz broke his wrist. Coaches kept the passing game simple and called bootleg plays where Stick could use his running ability. Stick went 8-0 before Wentz came back for the FCS title game.
Three years later, Klieman said, Stick calls 75 percent of the plays at the line of scrimmage and makes the smallest tweaks that go unnoticed to most people in the stadium.
"Our game plan and game sheet is so much bigger now," Klieman said. "Even last year to this year I think our game sheet has continued to increase because of what he can handle."
Some observers believe Stick has the same football savvy as Wentz, now a key part of the Philadelphia Eagles.
"He does not make mistakes," Montana State coach Jeff Choate said of Stick.
While Stick could be on his way to the pros, the Bison have more quarterbacks waiting in the wings. Although not listed on the two-deep depth chart, true freshman Trey Lance already has opened some eyes with his performances in practice and two games. Called on to run out games that were already in hand, he averaged 10 yards per carry and scored two touchdowns.
Although Lance, of Marshall, Minnesota, has four more seasons ahead of him because of the new redshirt rule allowing players to participate in four games without costing them a year of eligibility, he said his only thought at this point is emulating his mentor.
"I'm just trying to be like Easton, obviously," he said.
Stick said he would be happy to see other Bison quarterbacks in position down the road to chase down his records and winning numbers.
"You would hope so, right?" Stick said. "That's part of this program. You want people to come and to continue to push the envelope and find ways to get better. I would like to think it will continue to trend upward. I think that makes this place unique."
So do players like Hendricks, nicknamed "Jimmy Football." While in high school in Bemidji, Minnesota, Hendricks passed for 3,735 yards and 36 touchdowns while rushing for 2,273 yards and 25 TDs. After redshirting one year with the Bison, he found himself at third-string QB behind Stick and Cole Davis. He moved to safety the following spring.
"I think when you get into a program like this you realize college football is bigger than yourself," Hendricks said. "I think it was pretty important for me to stay here."
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