October 30, 2004, a redshirt freshman quarterback took his first snaps as the starter for the Bison football team. He led the Bison to a 30-17 victory over Northwestern State inside the friendly confines of the Fargodome. Today, that quarterback, Steve Walker, speaks with us about another Bison quarterback who will be taking his first starting snaps under center this Saturday.
Bison Illustrated: What was your reaction when Carson’s injury was announced?
Steve Walker: “I think it’s definitely a shocker. … It stinks to see someone who is such a good player both on the field and personality-wise off the field with his leadership skills. It’s tough to see that happen, but at the same point, this is a good opportunity for Easton (Stick), to get him in and show what he can do.”
BI: When did you find out you were going to start against Northwestern State?
SW: “I think it was Monday morning. As much as they say, ‘Every week, you prepare to be the starter,’ it was a little different when I knew I was the guy. I watched a little more film, I was getting more reps in practice and stuff like that, but it was ultimately about having that full week of preparation. It’s going to get Easton a lot of time to gel with that first line. When I went in (the game) in 2004, Rob Hunt was a senior captain and the center and a great offensive lineman. He took me aside and said, ‘Hey, it’s time to go. We got your back and let’s do this.’ So a lot of the guys were making me feel comfortable, not making you feel like you have to be the saving grace by any means. Everybody is going to do their jobs and trust that you’re going to do your job. Rob and a lot of those other senior leaders on the team really rallied around me when I went in and said, ‘Hey, we believe in ya. We’re going to get it done.’”
BI: How much were you practicing with the first team as the backup?
SW: “Not a ton, every now and again I would get some snaps. But you’re watching the same film, getting the same looks from the scout team, but it’s just getting that timing down with the center and that’s something a little different. Working the cadence, working with the receivers you’re going to work with during one-on-ones and seven-on-seven.”
BI: Was your daily life around campus different that first week you were named the starter?
SW: “You hear a little more because I think it got out to the media. You get a few more people wishing you good luck and things like that. At the same time, I think any player will tell you they try to drown it out as much as they can. It’s great to have people wishing you luck and it’s very heart-warming that people are coming up to you. It’s always welcome, but at the same time, you have to go out and do the job yourself. Not always easy to do when you’re 18-19 years old, but I think that’s the pressure that you walk into and you know you’re going to have in Fargo surrounded by Bison Nation. You don’t want it any other way if you’re a competitive person, which I definitely see in Easton.”
BI: How much weight was lifted off your shoulders after you completed that first pass against Northwestern State?
SW: “I think that never changes. The first pass of every game is always something you want to get off your shoulders. It would be nice to begin every game with a nice little hitch route or something to the flats, just to get things going. Personally, those first pass jitters never went away, I had that every single game.”
BI: You only attempted 11 passes in your first start. Was running the ball something your offensive coordinator felt like you guys could do well against them or was it because it was your first start and they didn’t want to lean on you throwing the ball too much?
SW: “I think a little bit of both. We were more run-heavy than what NDSU has been over the last few years. We had some great running backs and a great offensive line, and we knew we could take advantage of some things with the running game. At the time, Tim Albin was the offensive coordinator. We were very comfortable working with each other. I think it was to prevent from throwing a redshirt freshman under the gun but to get me acclimated a little bit.”
BI: What’s going to help Easton Stick be as prepared as he can be leading into this game?
SW: “It seems to me – and by no means do I have a clue what they’re doing on a day-to-day basis – from what it sounds like is, Easton is the type of kid who from day one is prepared to be the starter and will get some serious reps. Just continue to do what you’re doing. Leading by example, but at the same time you’re the quarterback, you’re calling plays in the huddle, and not necessarily trying to change things up. Obviously, Carson has done a great job at just building off the great things offensively that they’ve done and follow the lead of the seniors. Lead by example, and also follow the lead of those guys that have been there and done that, and know they’ve got your back, from a quarterback standpoint, to believe in you as a player.”
BI: Have you watched Easton play?
SW: “A little bit, yeah. I think he’s very talented. He’s got a lot of the athletic abilities from the sounds of it. He’s a very intelligent person that’s a student of the game. Obviously, you can’t replace Carson Wentz because he’s a phenomenal player, but I think Easton is going to be up to the task and is just going to get better with more experience.”
BI: What’s the coach saying to Easton before he leads that team for its first drive on Saturday?
SW: “Tyler (Roehl) is definitely a very fiery guy, so I wouldn’t even imagine guessing what he’d say. Tyler, at the same time, is going to say something to keep him calm. Coach (Tim) Polasek is going to keep him calm. Coach (Randy) Hedberg is going to keep Easton calm. ‘Just go out and do what you do and have some fun. And just know the guys around you are going to do their job so you can go out and do yours.’ I would imagine Tim, Tyler and Randy are going to have a similar message, but who knows, I could be completely wrong.”
BI: You have the record for most completed passes in a row to begin a career with 16. Are you nervous Easton could break it?
SW: “(Laughs) I hope it is. Records are meant to be broken. To be honest, I assumed that already would’ve been broken by now with the number of great quarterbacks we’ve had, but yeah, hopefully, he goes out and completes a heck of a lot more than that.”