The person who made the noise was sitting quietly in the kitchen in Pensacola, Florida, overlooking the beach. Trey Lance, the former North Dakota State quarterback, was selected in the NFL draft at 29. April, who will likely be in the top-five and is currently Saint Redeemer’s most famous former student, caused a stir when he appeared on a computer screen and showed a smile at a school more than 1,300 miles away.
Lance began the discussion by telling a group of kindergarten and eighth grade students that he had never heard of Ms. Lance. Clate was taught she was not a fan of mine at the time (Mrs. Clate, momentarily turned off, replied, Trey, I would love to have you in second grade).
The children had questions, and as the 25-minute session progressed, these questions were answered and cleverly revealed. Lance was asked what his best memory of the Holy Redeemer was, and he said it had to be the carnival in eighth grade. Every morning he starts by reading a book (currently: Blink), then watches an online sermon, usually delivered by evangelical pastors Stephen Furtick or Michael Todd. His favorite prayer is Hail Mary, Holy Queen, and he finds it strange to enter a world where a potential job requires X-rays and MRIs of virtually the entire body. It’s weird to think it’s suitable for work. When Mrs. Clute forwarded the following question: ….. Are you better at running or throwing? — Lance looked around as if he suspected an NFL scout had entered the chat room. I guess we’ll see what others think, he said. It’s not for me to decide at this stage. It’s about what other people think of me, which is kind of weird to think about, but it is what it is right now.
The 20-year-old Lance smiled, laughed and generally acted like someone who wasn’t so far from second grade that he couldn’t channel the general mood. What’s my number? he asked, repeating the question. Is that my phone number or the number on my shirt? My number is 5, but I can’t tell you my number. He asked them if they still played foursome at halftime, which led to someone asking him if he would come back and play foursome with them after he left for the NFL. I’ll definitely be back to play four, said Lance, who looked like he wanted to go to HRS basketball games.
Trey is probably the toughest evaluation I’ve had to make in 11 years, says ESPN scout Matt Miller. AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King
Lance’s face – the young man’s smooth face, with eyes glistening with every smile and eyebrows raised in a constant state of curiosity – seems genetically made to be happy. It’s a big world of temptation, jealousy, and blanks who swear they didn’t hear the whistle, but at the moment Lance isn’t bothered by any of that. This sight seems to be where skepticism begins to die.
Going to school with a smile on your face can have a big impact, he told the second-graders. You don’t know what the people around you are going through at home, so asking others how they are doing can be strange and uncomfortable at first, but your positive energy can change your life and the lives of others.
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When he’s not giving life advice to teenagers, Lance is the most enigmatic potential star in this month’s NFL Draft. He’s 5-foot-8, weighs 190 pounds, played a pro-style game in college that required him to read the line, ran the 40 in about 4.5 seconds and told Holy Redeemer students, in response to a question, that he had once thrown a ball 79 yards. But that was a long time ago, he said. I think I can handle it now. It’s more of a retreat than a frenzy.
To be fair, Lance seems to have been created for the sole purpose of confusing and enticing NFL decision makers. He showed all the physical (speed, arm strength, accuracy) and mental (ability to read defenses, leadership qualities, personality traits) qualities NFL scouts look for, but in just a few reps to gauge their next level of usefulness. Lance presents the kind of puzzle that already seemed impossible: He’s an underdeveloped quarterback.
Lance started 17 games for North Dakota and was a freshman redshirt for 16 of those games in 2019. His 2019 numbers are cartoonish: 2,786 yards on the ground, 28 touchdowns and exactly zero interceptions on 287 attempts, an NCAA record for attempts without an interception. In two games, he’s thrown more touchdowns than oncletions. He also ran for 14 touchdowns and 1,100 yards (an impressive number, but probably only half the average of the two admirable boys in Mrs. Clate’s class at halftime).
In 16 games during his freshman season, Lance threw for 2,786 yards and 28 touchdowns and ran for 1,100 yards and 14 other scores. AP Photo/Bruce Cluhon
After a pandemic wiped out the fall season for FCS schools, North Dakota State was able to play one game, against Central Arkansas. The general belief is that the game was played for a specific reason: to show Lance he’s ready, but NDSU said it was an opportunity to play the game, any game, at a time when schedules and rules are in flux and the team is on campus, practicing and ready to play. Whatever the explanation, there is no doubt that this is one of the strangest events of this strange year. In the NFL, people like to talk about pressure, says Terry Bohlman, Lance’s head coach at Marshall High. Well, there was a lot of pressure on Trey in that match. It was like a farewell game for him, but a very different feeling. Lance had his worst game, throwing his first and only interception in the first half, but he completed 50% of his passes, ran for 143 yards, threw two touchdowns and finished his career with a 17-0 record as a starter. For bad games, it was damn good.
Trey is probably the toughest evaluation I’ve had to make in 11 years, says ESPN scout Matt Miller. Seventeen starts is very few to get a full picture of who the player is, and it’s not just 17, but 17 against FCS competition. But I’ve never seen a player so dominant in these games. If you look at the video, he should be the second quarterback in the draft, behind [Trevor] Lawrence.
Preliminary analyses suggest Lance won’t be the second quarterback (Zach Wilson of Brussels, we’re told, will almost certainly go to the Jets at No. 2), but there’s a rare sense of real uncertainty about whether Lance, Justin Fields of Ohio State University or Mac Jones of Alabama will take the 49ers with the third pick. In the mimetic world of the NFL, where there isn’t a quarterback who isn’t compared to someone else, Lance isn’t a generational conflict. The right choice can transform a franchise. Also a mistake.
TREY LANCE was 5 years old when Carlton and Angie Lance were getting ready for a big Saturday morning at a local park. Carlton, a former Canadian Football League quarterback who was inducted into Marshall’s Hall of Famer at Southwest Minnesota State University, had this idea in mind: He and Trey rode their bikes to the park, then Carlton took off his wheels and taught his older sons to ride on two wheels.
Oh, it was a big deal, Angie said. A very big deal.
Carlton Lance had planned a celebratory ride to teach his son to ride a bike, and was totally unprepared. Thanks to Angie Lance.
They arrived at the park, unloaded the extra bikes, and made a serious connection. Okay, buddy, Carlton said you could do it. He walked over to his son, kept his hand on the seat, and did everything a father should do, until he realized about five seconds before the big blow that he was even less important than the wheels. Trey detached himself from his grip and rode through the park as if he were on a unicycle. They were gone for about ten minutes when Carlton and Trey came back to the house.
Angie met Carlton at the door. What happened, she whispered, in case something went wrong. Carlton shrugged. Nothing… Trey can ride a bike now.
This is an anecdotal way of letting the world know that one had better not make the mistake – as I did – of suggesting to Carlton Lance that Trey Lance is a latecomer. After I told Angie what I had done, she said: Oh, you didn’t. People say all the time: Oh, Trey must have gotten better when he came to NDSU. It’s driving Carl crazy.
Carlton’s reply was far more diplomatic than his wife had suggested, but his voice took on a harsher tone when the description reached her ears. No, Trey’s not a retard, he said, every syllable strained like barbed wire. Everything you’ve seen him do since high school. From then on, we looked for opportunities. Did I see it explode? No, but I was hoping
Perhaps to avoid another question, Carlton steps forward: Trey behaves well: he is at home with both parents, gets good grades, has no problems. That’s another box I’d check. It’s a tacit acknowledgement that character issues are a label that has historically been disproportionately attached to black quarterbacks. Trey’s offensive coordinator at North Dakota State, former NFL quarterback Randy Hedberg, tells NFL people that Trey can wear a franchise tag with his identity. If he walks into a room, we know who he is.
Carlton, a financial analyst, was happy to argue for Marshall. He was one of our hardest coaches, said Blaise Andries, now an offensive tackle at the University of Minnesota. A hard love, but it was still love.
Trey was in second grade when his father told him that he didn’t make much of an effort to cover himself. Yeah, that’s it, Trey said. Carlton went to a movie where the two sat down to see who was right. Carlton paused at a point on the screen and asked: Trey, is he an offensive lineman? Trey nodded. Are you faster than him? Another nod. Then why does he beat you on the field? Point, Carlton. He said he was never going to jog again. Around the same time, Carlton started saying that the only one who could stop Trey was Trey. It quickly became a motivational call and response. Who’s gonna stop Trey? Carlton would ask and Trey would answer, Trey.
Relive the incredible games of Trey Lance’s college career.
Lance’s biggest hurdle in academic recruitment was the same as in the project evaluation: It was never enough. At Marshall High School, he was regularly taken off the field at halftime when his team was leading by five or six touchdowns. There wasn’t much threshing around Trey, Bachlmann said, in the classic aridity of southwestern Minnesota, which breaks like the crunch of snow underfoot. He just didn’t have the stats. He only played the entire game once as a junior. If we had a 40-point lead at halftime, what would I do? Leave it in and let him throw it?
It’s easy to get overlooked when you’re from Marshall, a town of 14,000, with a high school team that had to drive three hours to play against a similarly sized school. (Most of them are dirty farm kids who shoot people with airsoft guns, according to South Dakota State running back Jefferson Lee V, who was one of the few black players at Marshall besides Lance. Man, I don’t like dirty at all). Lance threw the ball 65 yards and through defenders, but if no one saw it, did it really happen? Two Iowa State coaches came to play, only to watch Lance take a 54-0 lead into halftime. He barely threw a pass all night, and Iowa left the field not knowing what he had done or without a clue….. to see. I have myself to blame for joking with my high school teammate, Reece Winkelman, who plays linebacker at South Dakota State. I know I didn’t help his statistics. My senior year as a tight end I averaged 28 yards, but only because I gave all the short passes, because Trey’s arm strength was unreal. I scored short because I didn’t want to break my finger.
Boise State was Lance’s only quarterback in the FBS, and that was the day before Signing Day. He has received offers from the Big Ten to play safety or linebacker. At one point in his high school career, he found himself on a well-trodden and sometimes chaotic path from quarterback to athlete. Minnesota recruited him as a quarterback until P.J. Fleck took Tracy Clay’s place. The Gophers then swap places and offer Lance the chance to play defender. Angie Lance said the University of Michigan prodded for about a half hour. Trey didn’t need to be comforted or reassured. We just figured out what was in it.
It’s a plug-and-play story: A failed athlete goes to college or plays a sport professionally and grows a huge chip on his shoulder. Either he wasn’t good enough at school or he wasn’t recruited enough, and from that point on every fiber of his being is dedicated to proving the doubters wrong. He clings to certain blades and pushes them into his inner furnace to burn away all difficulties. Damian Lillard writes rap songs about a high school coach who suggested that the NBA might not be his future; Aaron Rodgers hasn’t forgotten or forgiven Cal’s high-ranking teammate who tried to nickname him Juco when he arrived on campus from community college.
Trey needs no comfort or reassurance, his mother Angie says he has no college offers. We just figured out what was in it. Photo by Justin Tafoya/NCAA via Getty Images.
But what about the man who wasn’t noticed, but didn’t care? Who hasn’t turned every perceived insult into a reason to live? Is it possible to be more grateful for the opportunity offered than bitter towards those who have been denied it? Is it weird for an athlete to want to get better and not be angry?
Lance was a guest on the Youth Sports Podcast in February, where he was asked if the attention he received for his record-breaking undefeated season at North Dakota State – an FCS star who claims to be a Carson Wentz alum – has made life difficult for him. I don’t know if it’s as hard as people think, he said. It’s about eliminating negative energy. I believe in bringing positive energy into the universe and talking about the way things are.
On a dreary February evening in Fargo, just after Lance finished his trial season, he received a call from a former high school teammate. Blaise Endries was a year before Lance at Marshall High School and was a second offensive tackle at Minnesota. It was about 8pm on a Tuesday night and Andries was about to check in.
What are you going to do now? Andries asked.
I’m in the stadium watching a movie, Lance said.
A movie about what?
I’ve broken some NFL defenses.
Andries let it drag on. His classmate, while future pro Easton Stick led North Dakota State to its second national title, sat in the Fargodome Tuesday night – during the offseason – analyzing NFL defensive films.
First of all, why don’t you do some stuff for school? Andries said. And secondly: You study the NFL defense?
Andries tells me this story by zooming in from his apartment in Minneapolis. On the table in front of him is a stack of study sheets full of numbers and formulas. As a math student, he decided to become an actuary, but then he grew to be 6-foot-3, 335 pounds and was good enough offensively that his dream of an NFL career was probably put on hold.
Is what Trey did right? Andries asks. Oh, no, no, no, no. Very unusual. This man lived in this stadium. Seriously, it’s an obsession. He looked to the future, at a time when no one would think he should be looking to the future. Not many people are obsessed with everything he does with football.
Lance, who lives with his parents and younger brother Bryce, has always been obsessed with football, his friends say. Thanks to Angie Lance.
Back at HRS, Ms. Clate recounted the questions asked in each HRS class. Does Trey like being Bryce’s big brother? Yes, he said of the Marshall High receiver who will play at NDSU in the fall. He’s much more fun and exciting than I am. The sixth graders wanted to know his Xbox username, but Lance said he doesn’t play often enough to remember it.
And immediately after refusing to name his favorite teacher – I see about six here, he said, laughing – he was asked a question that changed his mood.
LAST READ, reads a question from the chat function in a balance conversation. He read it mostly to himself, a sort of whisper, and his eyes narrowed as he read, no doubt wondering where he was going. More than anything, the expression on his face seems to indicate that he is slowly realizing that he has unintentionally fallen flat on his face during a friendly buzz call to the most informative elementary school in the upper Midwest.
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There was an event you attended in high school that was held in Chicago, Lance started there, and all the interviews say you were constantly in line. Would you have acted differently that day if you had known what you know now, for example. B. be more aggressive and push forward to get ahead of others?
Lance leans back in his chair and stiffens a little. So I went to a camp in Chicago when I was in high school, he began, continuing the story.
It was an Elite 11 quarterback camp, the summer before his senior year, and it was a chance for the world to get a look at Trey Lance. It was also a chance for Trey Lance to learn his place in this big world. Most of the seniors at camp were already entrenched: they were smarter than Lance, came from bigger places, had been encouraged by private coaches, and had been offered scholarships before playing with the team. I was delighted, Carlton Lance said. We went to Trey’s and told him. From my research and what I’ve looked at, I think you understand, but I don’t want to look at it through the eyes of the father. This is your chance to see where you stand.
But Carlton immediately sensed something was wrong. Neither coach was paying much attention to Trey, and during pitching practice, he noticed that Trey wasn’t moving on the line. He would be third in line, two guys would take reps, and Trey would be second in line. I saw them go ahead in line, and the next thing I knew, they were taking over Trey’s representatives, Carlton said. I don’t want to sound angry, because I don’t think Trey should have been the only quarterback, but we thought it was a point and we didn’t get it.
On the way back, Trey was silent. Carlton told Angie: At least we know we don’t have to go to the next camp. Trey held the phone for you: I don’t even want to go.
The spears performed modern parent dances: Are we doing enough? How much can we spend and sacrifice for our son so he can achieve his dream? Can we sit back and hope that college recruiters find Marshall, Minnesota and see their son’s potential beyond the meager statistics?
The recruitment service sends commercial offers with the same debt: Your son is late. Carlton pressed the same button over and over again: Don’t push your value off on others. Angie was torn, she wanted to give her son the best chance at success, but she didn’t want her son to be a publisher. I’ve seen kids play on a few AAU basketball teams, watched them play at summer camps and 7-on-7 tournaments in Florida, and I asked Carl: Are we doing enough? Angie says. He never hesitated. He said to me: It’s good enough, and they’ll find it. If he works hard and improves, they will find him.
As a freshman, Lance won the 2019 NCS Championship – 16th overall and 8th in nine seasons. Photos by Justin Tafoy/NCAA via Getty Images
In the Pensacola kitchen, Trey sat down and formulated an answer in his head. Finally, he leaned forward again so that his smile filled the screen. He said the guys in line in front of me were cutting off. But shall I do something else? No, I really don’t think so. It’s not my identity, and it was in my plan to struggle and be frustrated in this camp. All in all, it was a good experience.
The questions ended, and Mrs. Clate thanked Lance as the two glasses-wearing boys rushed to the screen, waving. Lance laughed and said: It was nice to see you.
As you read this, NFL scouts are digging deep into Trey Lance’s 17-game tape, looking for mistakes. They question the competition. They question the scope of data collection. They question the ability of someone who has played in a limited number of games against limited competition to grasp the nuances of the NFL defense quickly enough to get top-five picks. Of course, they see arm strength and the ability to throw in any direction on the run. They see an identity that his coaches believe can carry the franchise. You’re looking at a compulsive football QB who studied the NFL defense before he even gave a shit in college, but is still awkward with sophomores. Some of these scouts are probably in love. Some are afraid to die. Some, one may assume, do both. Forgive them their grief; chances are they have never faced such circumstances before and never will again.
Trey Lance can either make the franchise or retire. The evolution of the position from a niche obsession to a national fetish has led to a kind of blind over-analysis that reduces the project to a binary explanation: Boom or bust; Manning or Leaf; Trubisky or Mahomes. There are no certainties, that’s for sure, but there are more variables and far more conjecture than anyone in the industry wants to admit.
What do you believe in? Carlton Lance is convinced that his son will never allow anyone else to determine his worth. Trey thinks he can talk about success in the universe. And the boys at Holy Redeemer High School, especially the two bespectacled boys who rushed to the computer screen to say goodbye, believe Trey Lance will play in the four again.
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