On a brisk fall evening, a 14-year-old Carson Wentz tosses tight spirals back and forth with his 17-year-old brother on a patch of grass near their house. Zach is a star quarterback at their high school, Bismarck Century, and Carson is simply hoping he'll make varsity.
Growing up, Carson's older brother seemed infallible. A three-sport athlete and eventually a standout baseball player at North Dakota State, Zach was the pinnacle of athletic success in Carson's eyes. Little did he know that eventually it would be Zach who would look up to him.
"He's always been my best friend and a role model for me," Carson said at his introductory press conference on Friday, his brother sitting in the front row. "As a kid, I always wanted to compete against him. He was my standard. If I could be even close to beating him, that was important to me, then I thought I was doing well."
For the better part of two decades, the elder Wentz consistently got the better of his younger brother. At Century, Zach set a school record for passing yards in a season, 2,228, that still stands today. He reminds Carson of that fact often.
It's hard to believe, but growing up Carson Wentz was the runt of his family, entering high school standing 5-8 and weighing just 125 pounds. Back then, he used to look up to Zach, who stands 6-2, and pray to one day break the six-foot mark so he could possibly, hopefully realize his dream of playing quarterback at the college level. But over an 18-month span between his sophomore and senior seasons, he unexpectedly shot up seven inches, reaching 6-5 while gaining nearly 100 pounds.
Unfortunately, Wentz's rapid growth caused unexpected complications. Aching pain in his throwing arm and shoulder as a junior forced him to temporarily move to wide receiver. As a senior, he finally grew into his body, returning to the quarterback position and leading Century to a 9-3 record and an appearance in the AAA Championship Game. But by that point, despite his impressive physical tools and outstanding play in his final high school season, it was so late in the recruiting game that no Division I program showed him much interest. When North Dakota State University offered him a full scholarship, he happily accepted.
At NDSU, Carson Wentz again had his patience tested. After redshirting in 2011, he held a clipboard for two seasons while sitting behind upperclassman Brock Jensen. Finally, three years into his collegiate career, Wentz started his first game for the Bison in 2014.
"He matured a lot when he got to college," Zach said of his younger brother. "(He) looks at what's next, what's the next thing (he) can control. Next day, 'What can I do when I do to get better?' And when his opportunity came up, he was ready to take off with it."
As a junior, Carson Wentz started 16 games, leading the Bison to a 15-1 record and a fourth-consecutive FCS Championship while breaking school records for completions (228) and passing yards (3,111) in a season. As a senior, he started six games before suffering a broken wrist that forced him out of action for three months. He was cleared to return during the week of the FCS Championship game and led NDSU to a win, notching 276 yards of total offense and three touchdowns in the process.
When the college season ended, many expected Wentz to be selected somewhere in the middle of the first round. But the more of the 23-year-old signal-caller teams saw, the more they liked. As the draft approached, it became clear that Wentz was going to be selected near the very top of the first round. When the Los Angeles Rams traded up from No. 15 to No. 1, it became clear that their admiration for Cal quarterback Jared Goff could make Wentz available with the second overall pick. The Eagles struck a deal with the Cleveland Browns to move up to No. 2 and make him their presumptive quarterback of the future.
Friday marked the first time Zach had ever been to Philadelphia. But at Carson's request, he and his wife, Andie, made the decision several weeks ago that they would leave their home state of North Dakota to move to whatever city ended up being Carson's new home. In Philadelphia, the two will create a new life for themselves and foster a supportive environment in which the rookie quarterback can better acclimate to life in the NFL both on and off the field.
With elite physical tools, a fantastic head on his shoulders, and the full support of both the Eagles' organization and his family, Carson Wentz is in a great position to succeed in Philadelphia. Like was the case in high school and in college, he just needs some time to get to where he needs to go. He's going to do everything he can to get there.
"If I'm not the best at something, it kind of ticks me off, and I want to work my tail off to be the best," he told reporters. "My parents and my older brother always pushed me. I always was competitive with (Zach), and I just hate losing. It's just kind of how I'm wired, and hopefully I can bring that to Philadelphia."
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