Photo By J. Alan Paul Photography
If everything goes according to plan this season for the North Dakota State football team, junior Easton Stick will continue to grow into a top quarterback in the FCS. Stick has already started 22 games in his first two seasons with the Bison, winning 20 and posting 4,658 total yards of offense (not counting the outburst of offense last Saturday against Mississippi Valley State).
Also in the quarterback room is fifth-year senior and backup Cole Davis, who, if everything goes according to plan, will finish his Bison career with zero starts.
But that doesn’t mean Davis’ impact on the program won’t be felt after he’s gone. It’s quite the opposite. His friend/teammate/mentor relationship with Stick and former Bison quarterback Carson Wentz has lent a huge helping hand for the NDSU passing attack.
And his presence isn’t left unnoticed inside the program.
THOSE WHO STAY WILL BE CHAMPIONS
There’s a saying on the NDSU locker room doors that reads “Those who stay will be champions.” Nobody embodies that slogan more than Davis who arrived in 2013. In a college football environment filled with players bouncing around from school to school looking for a chance to start, Davis has stuck it out at NDSU.
“It’s just been really special to me being here, being around the guys and the relationships I’ve built over the years,” Davis said. “Yeah, I could have transferred and gone somewhere else. But I really thought about it and put some time into it, and in the end, it was the relationships here, and the culture we have here. It’s a winning tradition that has kept me here, and I don’t think I would have gotten that somewhere else.”
After redshirting in 2013, Davis has been NDSU’s backup every season since 2014. He backed up Wentz before Stick grabbed the No. 2 quarterback spot in 2015, eventually starting eight games for the injured Wentz.
When Easton took over as the backup in 2015, Cole didn’t change,” quarterbacks coach Randy Hedberg recalled. “He just went out and did his deal and got better and better. Right now, we’re extremely comfortable putting him in the football game, and I think he can win games for us. He adds a lot to our meeting rooms. He gives the younger guys insight on how a particular concept or play should go.”
Receiving that advice from Davis has helped Stick grow into a winning quarterback after being thrown into the fire in 2015 when Wentz went down and the Bison were 4-2. Stick rattled off eight-straight wins to reach Frisco, Texas, where the future No. 2 overall NFL Draft pick Wentz returned to win NDSU’s fifth straight national title.
The grooming continued last season when Stick was experienced, but still just a sophomore.
“Cole has been huge,” Stick said. “I can’t talk about him enough on how he is as a teammate and leader for our team. Someone who has helped me on the field and off the field as a friend. He’s incredibly important to me.”
Filling out the quarterback room is redshirt freshman Henry Van Dellen and true freshmen Holden Hotchkiss and Noah Sanders. With such a young group, Davis takes it as a badge of honor to bring those players under his wing to ensure the future of Bison football is in good hands.
“As a senior and the old guy in the room, Brock (Jensen) and Carson did the same thing for me,” Davis said. “They took me in and showed me the ropes coming in. As a freshman, especially as a quarterback, you’re pretty bright-eyed and don’t know what’s going on. I just want to be a leader to them and be a friend and show them the ropes.”
Davis, Stick and Wentz have continued their close friendship despite Wentz now being one of the top young quarterbacks in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles. The three visited the Boundary Waters along the Canada-United States border in late July.
“They’re very good friends,” Hedberg said. “One thing that happened here is Carson mentored Easton and Cole and that is big. Those two continued that friendship and they consider themselves best buds. That’s what you want in a meeting room. They show it every day.”
Wentz also visited Fargo and brought along some of his Eagles teammates to work out and throw/run routes on NDSU’s campus. Stick got to participate in the unofficial workouts, something not many college football players get a chance to do.
“It was a cool experience,” Stick said. “Having his group there and seeing how he led those guys and interacted and essentially managing a lot of different personalities. Guys that are in different stages of their careers and stuff like that. It was cool to see the leadership angle he took on it and seeing how those guys work.”
Wentz continued to work with Stick during the offseason. Stick said he practiced a lot of what Wentz is working on, which is being able to move and reset quickly and throwing on different platforms along with talking about the mental side of playing quarterback.
Stick is also adjusting to new offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham, who looks to improve NDSU’s passing game.
“It’s been really good,” Stick said. “It’s a new voice and new ways of looking at different things. He’s brought his own adjustments and things like that to our offense. It’s been good continuing to learn from him and I’m excited to see how it plays out.”
Alongside him, just like the past three years, will be Davis. A steady backup is a reassuring figure for an offense and the starting quarterback. Davis, who is set to graduate in December with a degree in agribusiness, has been just that for the Bison.