Attending a school in the FCS comes with its ups and downs regarding a possible future in the NFL. The talent is there, however the recognition may not be. For rookie quarterback Carson Wentz and veteran Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, they faced the small-school label and beat the odds to get to where they are today.
Before his collegiate success, Flacco hailed from nearby Audubon, New Jersey. He finished his career at Audubon High School ranked fourth in South Jersey history for most passing yards. He began his college career at the University of Pittsburgh, but transferred to the University of Delaware and led the Blue Hens to a NCAA FCS National Championship Game appearance.
Flacco, who is now in his ninth NFL season, was the No. 18 overall pick for the Ravens in the 2008 NFL Draft. Since then, Flacco has gone on to accumulate accolades such as becoming the first rookie quarterback to win two road playoff games and a Super Bowl XLVII MVP honors in 2012. For the 2016 season, Flacco has thrown for 3,582 yards and 17 touchdowns as the Ravens are one game out of first place in the AFC North.
Like every NFL player, a form of transition takes place as soon as his professional career begins. Having to adjust from the FCS to the NFL is something that Flacco knows all too well.
"I think the biggest thing is most of us come off of pretty good college football teams and in the NFL no matter how good you are, you lose at some point," said Flacco.
"So just dealing with the emotions of winning and losing football games and then just how big everything is. It's not just you dealing with winning and losing, it's all of the exterior that you have to deal with. It's all magnified."
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As for Wentz, he considers his jump from fellow FCS school North Dakota State to the NFL no different than any other player's experience.
"The jump is a big jump no matter where you are coming from – Division III, FCS, FBS, SEC – it does not matter. Everyone is bigger, faster and stronger (in the NFL). Obviously, we believe at the FCS level that there is a lot of good talent, and you are playing a lot of good competition. I think they just lack the depth overall that a lot of FBS teams have," Wentz explained.
Both Wentz and Flacco had similar NFL starts to their rookie seasons. Wentz was going to be inactive on gameday until the Eagles traded Sam Bradford to the Vikings. Flacco was third on the depth chart, but given his shining moment after a season-ending injury to starting quarterback Kyle Boller and backup quarterback Troy Smith suffered an illness. Flacco guided the Ravens to the AFC Championship Game.
"We had a couple things go crazy those first couple of games and it was obviously a whirlwind, but I was ready for it," Flacco recalled. "I wanted to start right away. It wasn't necessarily a plan, but I was definitely ready, obviously, in case it happened and I was super excited about the opportunity."
For Wentz, Flacco paved the way for other small-school players.
"I think every guy is different coming in, and every guy has their own background and their own thing," said Wentz. "But having a guy that comes from that level and to go in the way he did and have the success early, I think it just made people believe that it could be done again. I think he set the bar – set the standard for that, at least in recent times. (I have) a lot of respect for what he's done and what he's continuing to do."