Only a handful of years ago, three Bison athletes were just like you. Quarterback Carson Wentz, women’s basketball player Holly Johnson and men’s basketball player AJ Jacobson were growing up in North Dakota and doing whatever they could do to stand out in their respected sport. Wentz was a multi-sport star at Century High School in Bismark, molding his athleticism while Johnson was taking every step necessary to become the next great college basketball player from Minot High School. Jacobson buried himself in his studies to prepare himself for life after basketball at Shanley High School while finding time to perfect his jump shot. Each athlete faced adversity before wearing the Bison jersey, but each of them are grateful for the journey they went through before becoming Bison.
Last year, Carson Wentz proved to be a formidable leader as he kept NDSU’s historic run of success alive. The junior quarterback broke three major passing records during his first season as the starting quarterback and led the Bison to a fourth straight FCS Championship in dramatic fashion. Now with national recognition in sight, Wentz is looking to leave the Bison program where he found it – at the top. The Bismarck native has come a long way before scoring the game-winning touchdown against Illinois State in Frisco, Texas. The competitiveness that drives him forward is a culmination of his baseball, basketball and hockey playing days.
Wentz can’t remember the last time he wasn’t playing a sport. He participated in football and baseball throughout high school and played basketball for three years, skipping his junior season to recover from an arm injury. What most people don’t know is Wentz was quite the hockey player. “My older brother (Zach Wentz) wanted to play hockey when we were youngsters so I naturally wanted to do it too,” Wentz said. He played up until high school and then joined the basketball team to be around his buddies.
Early in high school, Wentz thought he was going to follow the path of his older brother Zach and play baseball in college, but he said there were three factors that made him choose football. The first reason Wentz played football is because he hurt his arm his freshman year playing baseball and that ended his pitching career. He was constricted to playing first base and being the designated hitter, which took the fun out of the game. The next reason was the pace of baseball. Wentz admits he’s not the most patient guy. In football there’s always a next play. On that next play, Wentz can take out his frustration physically on an opponent, which is the final reason he chose football over baseball.
How Good Was Carson At Baseball?
“He’s just a phenomenal athlete, overall, height and strength. He could’ve played anywhere he wanted. We tried to get him to play shortstop, but he wanted to save his arm for quarterback, and, in fact, he didn’t even pitch for us because he had some arm problems. … So what could he have done? I thought it was a sport he was pretty good at too. Same with his brother, I think he would’ve done the same type of things and maybe even a little bit further.” – Mike “Gus” Gustavsson is the head baseball coach at Century High School and coached Wentz for three years.
Wentz injured his arm playing baseball his freshman season. The injury lingered as he continued to play through the pain his sophomore season. He was forced to stop playing shortstop and pitching in order to have any strength to throw a football. Wentz’s arm was so sore his junior season he didn’t play quarterback and lost an entire season of basketball.
What Should You Do?
It takes a special type of competitor to lead three fourth-quarter comebacks in the FCS playoffs. Wentz credits his undeniable competitor attribute to playing multiple sports in high school. “I didn’t just focus on one sport,” Wentz said of his high school experience. “Those moments of adversity within games and those close games, whether it was baseball, hockey, basketball or football, they all helped when times get tough. So now for football, I’ve faced a lot of those things and I’ve dealt with adversity.” Wentz said his advice for a young athlete was to do whatever makes you happy. If you enjoy playing football and basketball, play both, because if you prematurely quit to focus on one, you may regret that decision further down the road.