North Dakota State will enter the 2019 season with three possible replacements for Easton Stick. Who will win out?
FARGO — New North Dakota State head football coach Matt Entz spoke for 13 minutes, 40 seconds during his media day presser Wednesday from inside the Fargodome about his Bison team up to this point after both spring practices and five days of fall camp — except for one position group.
He then opened the floor up for questions. And as predicted, that question was the first.
“I didn’t say anything because I anticipated that someone will ask,” Entz said with a chuckle. “All three of them have had excellent first five days.”
The three in question are redshirt freshman Trey Lance, Iowa State transfer junior Zeb Noland and sophomore Noah Sanders, who are all in competition to replace Easton Stick at quarterback for the two-time Football Championship Subdivision defending national champion. Stick, who was drafted in the fifth round by the Los Angeles Chargers this past April, left the Bison program as the winningest quarterback in FCS history with a 49-3 record. Stick led the Bison to consecutive titles his junior and senior seasons.
“It’s been a blast,” said Sanders about the competition. “We’re all really good friends on the field, off the field and I say that it has been a friendly competition. We’re competing in every rep, we want to give our best effort and put our best foot forward but at the same time we’re still best friends, we’re still picking each other up and encourage each other.”
Noland isn’t new to a QB battle. After starting four games for the Cyclones last season, Noland lost his spot to a true freshman after taking over the duties due to an injury to then starter Kyle Kempt. So he’s embracing being in the midst of another position competition.
“I think it’s fun. These guys make it fun to compete with because it’s fun everyday to be at practice. We pick each other up through the good or the bad and we’re always helping each other out and there isn’t any bad blood,” Noland said.
Lance appeared in two games last season for the Bison, completing just one pass for 12 yards but he rushed for 82 yards and scored two touchdowns on the ground. He credited practice — and Stick — as being more valuable than playing under the Saturday lights.
“What helped me more than the game action were the practices. Being able to practice with Easton, coming back to the huddle after every play and seeing what he was seeing and just being around him as much as possible,” said Lance.
According to Entz, he is still on schedule to have a decision on who will be Day 1 starter 10 days out of the Bison’s regular season opener. That target date, if it holds up will be exactly two weeks from Wednesday, Aug. 21. NDSU kicks off its title defense against Butler on Saturday, Aug. 31 from Target Field in Minneapolis.
“I’m gonna stay true to that,” Entz said.
• This year’s version of the Bison returns only 14 seniors but one of those will be running back Ty Brooks. Entz on Brooks, “He’s a young man that you’re going to hear him before you see him cause he’s going to let you know how good he is. That’s just the confidence he exudes.” Brooks finished 2018 with 1,019 all-purpose yards.
Chris Harris can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter: @ChrisHarris_DLJ
North Dakota State 2019 Football Schedule
Aug. 31 Butler (Target Field), 3
Sept. 7 North Dakota, 2:30
Sept. 14 at Delaware, noon
Sept. 21 UC Davis, 2:30
Oct. 5 at Illinois State, noon*
Oct. 12 Northern Iowa, 1*
Oct. 19 Missouri State, 2:30*
Oct. 26 at South Dakota State, 2*
Nov. 2 at Youngstown State, 5*
Nov. 9 Western Illinois, 2:30*
Nov. 16 South Dakota, 2:30*
Nov. 23 at Southern Illinois, 2*
Home games in bold
*Missouri Valley Football Conference games