By Tolly Taylor
North Dakota State offensive coordinator Tim Polasek directed a unit that averaged 432 yards per game as the school won its fourth straight FCS national championship last year. It helped to have Carson Wentz. The quarterback was limited to seven games because of a broken wrist, but threw for 1,651 yards and 17 touchdowns. Medill Reports spoke to Polasek by phone Tuesday about his time with Wentz, who is considered the possible No. 1 overall pick in Thursday’s NFL Draft in Chicago. Following are excerpts from that interview.
Q: What jumps out at you about your years with Carson Wentz?
A: He’s been kind of the same guy since I’ve been with him, for four of his five years; I left briefly in 2013. What’s really cool is, he’s just a superior competitor. Without question, he is the best servant-leader that I’ve ever been around.
Q: What do you mean by servant-leader?
A: A guy who’s willing to lead and do the right things when people aren’t looking. It has nothing to do with the opinion of himself — it’s to better others and improve the football team in whatever way he can, all the time.
Q: Why do you think Wentz decided to write the article in the Player’s Tribune Monday (about playing at North Dakota State), and do you think he has a chip on his shoulder?
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A: There’s no question about it. Carson’s extremely humble, but you read that and you go, OK, maybe the kid does have an air about him. He is confident, and he believes in where he comes from. I don’t think the kid is necessarily saying the Midwest is better than anything else, but he values it. He values the work ethic of the football team, of the Upper Midwest in general.
Q: How long have you known Carson, and were you part of the team that recruited him?
A: Yes, I was there during the recruiting process. His recruiting process was just different because he had that (arm/shoulder) injury and went through that growth spurt, and he didn’t have great quarterback film as a junior. He didn’t have the quarterback film that it takes to get an early offer. Our (former player and current) tight end coach, Tyler Roehl, was coaching (high school football at the time), but he was well aware of him. He just kept calling and calling and saying, guys, take a look at this kid. We were already committed (elsewhere at quarterback), so it wasn’t our philosophy to take two quarterbacks. But then it became evident that there was no way we were going to let [Wentz] get away.
Q: Who was the other quarterback you were looking at?
A: The next kid we were looking at was (eventual Wisconsin quarterback) Joel Stave, and we ended up offering Carson Wentz instead of Joel Stave.
Q: What’s something people might not know about Wentz’s personality?
A: He’s really into hunting and fishing and doing stuff outdoors. He’s also got a better sense of humor than people think.
Q: Any one trait you think will serve him best in the NFL?
A: His football IQ. His ability to take what he learns and apply it on the field is going to be what separates him. I really think he’s going to be successful. The great players can transfer information from the (play)book to the meeting room to the video to the field. That’s probably what excites me the most about him — and what makes me the most disappointed about not working with him again.
Q: Do you have a favorite behind-the-scenes story about him you like to tell?
A: A long time ago, I was able to throw the ball, so I always mess with the quarterbacks. We play this game of “500,” where you get 100 points if it hits you in the nose and 50 points if it hits you in the chest. I snuck away two years ago with the “W” somehow, and I remember thinking, “I’m never going to play against him again, because I just want to hold this title.” Sure enough, just like Carson did every day, he ran on the field every day and grabbed me and said, “It’s on, let’s go.” He wasn’t going to let me off the hook. He must’ve done it 10 times since, and I’ve never come close to beating him since.
Q: How does Wentz do in the film room?
A: There’s no player who’s close. And he’s as good as some coaches I’ve been around. Countless times this season — even when he was hurt, that’s the kind of guy he is — he still went through the process of watching film and game planning for himself. I still remember a series of probably 20 texts about four or five plays he really liked in the red zone; it was interesting because we hadn’t gotten to that stage in the game planning yet, and I told him I’d get back to him. Holy smokes, if it wasn’t an exact match to what we liked, it was 85-percent on.
Q: Is there any one thing he did as a quarterback that you think could be a negative in the NFL?
A: That’s a good question. No. In order to make great throws and to make big throws in the passing game, you have to be willing to play in time and understand that these windows are going to close a little quicker. We’ve been asked if he can’t throw the ball deep downfield, but I disagree with that. I think he throws it tremendously. We didn’t have a ton of guys that could run underneath (the throw) and catch the ball.