The dust may be settled on the 2018 North Dakota State football season, but for now-departed Bison quarterback Easton Stick, the work is only beginning.
No, that isn’t the former Bison standout’s pursuit of an MBA; rather, Stick is ratcheting up his preparation for the upcoming NFL Draft. The draft will commence on April 25 in Nashville, Tennessee, but until then, Stick has sizable boxes to check.
First on the docket for Stick is the East-West Shrine Game, which takes place this coming Saturday, Jan. 19 in St. Petersburg, Florida. Stick will be one of six quarterbacks participating in the contest and is one of a handful of offensive players from the FCS selected for the game.
The Shrine Game is limited to college seniors, with its selection based on the probability that an individual player will make an NFL roster. Organizers draw a consensus from the NFL’s 32 teams to select players. From there, the top 100 available players are invited.
Stick will vie for the eyes of NFL scouts alongside fellow signal-callers David Blough, Taylor Cornelius, Marcus McMaryion, Brett Rypien and Jordan Ta’amu. The Omaha, Nebraska native will be joined by McMaryion and Rypien on the West roster. Zach Grossi, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive quality control coach, will coach the trio.
Over 300 scouts and agents will be on hand throughout the week, which offers Stick an NFL audience he’s never had. While the Fargodome has teemed with professional scouts in recent years, never has Stick had the opportunity to showcase his abilities in person to such a large group.
Team practices began Monday, less than 10 days removed from the FCS title game. Considering both McMaryion and Rypien have been out of game action since mid-December, Stick may hold an advantage in preparedness.
Among the six quarterbacks, Stick is certainly the most intriguing prospect, and he may well be the best. Stick drew interest from the Senior Bowl, another hive of NFL scouting, but had already committed to the Shrine Game. Jim Nagy, the executive director of the Senior Bowl, has consistently praised Stick.
Were he at the Senior Bowl with fellow Bison Bruce Anderson, Stick would be competing against a greater number of quarterbacks — nine compared to six. That includes the likes of Daniel Jones, Will Grier and Gardner Minshew.
While Stick certainly stacks up favorably with that group, he’s a bigger fish in a smaller pond at the Shrine Game. It all adds up to more snaps on the field and less attention for which to compete among the attending scouts and front office personnel.
With a positive showing at the Shrine Game, and, much like one of his rushing touchdowns, it’s off to the races for Stick. Next on the calendar would be the NFL Combine, which kicks off Feb. 26 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Stick and other college hopefuls will learn their Combine status in the coming weeks.
Assuming that Stick is invited to the Combine — and with a strong performance at the Shrine Game, the chances of an invitation increase dramatically — it would serve as his best shot to impress NFL squads.
The Combine is exactly where Carson Wentz became a household name outside of North Dakota. Wentz was a top performer in the 40-yard dash, broad jump and three-cone drill. Additionally, the soon-to-be Philadelphia Eagles star excelled in the passing drills. Stick doesn’t match Wentz’s sheer athleticism, but his predecessor is proof that a small-school product can turn their fortunes at the Combine.
The final stop for Stick will be at NDSU’s pro day, which will take place at some point in late-March. Twenty-two scouts representing 21 teams were in attendance at last season’s pro day when Chris Board and Nick DeLuca were the Bison’s two big attractions.
Wentz drew 18 teams to the Fargodome for his pro day in 2016, a number that was lower than expected due to travel issues. If all goes right for Stick, the number of teams represented ought to be above 20.
As past Bison history proves, the pro day is a prime opportunity to dazzle scouts on home turf. Esteemed NFL talent evaluator Gil Brandt referred to Wentz’s pro day as one of the best he’d ever witnessed.
More recently, DeLuca turned his fortunes at the pro day. After an ugly showing at the Combine damaged his draft stock, the linebacker improved his numbers, specifically in the 40-yard dash, to sway scouts. DeLuca signed as an undrafted free agent with the Tennessee Titans, then went on to start for the Jacksonville Jaguars after the Titans released him.
On whichever side of the coin Stick finds himself at the end of March, there is reason for optimism. The pro day lends familiarity, both with the venue and receivers. Darrius Shepherd figures to appear at the pro day, which would give Stick his go-to target.
The months of preparation will culminate with the draft. Former Bison head coach Chris Klieman called Stick “the best player in college football” after NDSU downed South Dakota State in the FCS semifinals. If all goes well between now and April, that statement may be proven in Nashville.