C.J. Smith sat in the North Dakota State locker room when Carson Wentz walked in and passionately addressed the team last October. The Bison had just been beaten at home by South Dakota and the players quietly took off their gear the way players do when they lose a game they otherwise had no business losing.
Wentz broke the silence. The quarterback and captain called out the team for being ill-prepared, for lacking energy at the start, and for failing to respond as the Coyotes mounted a fourth-quarter comeback, according to Smith.
"He just said what was on his mind," said Smith, who signed with the Eagles as an undrafted rookie cornerback. "It was a message to everybody, including himself. It's not like he pointed fingers at anybody. He wasn't cursing. He's not the kind of guy to cuss anybody out.
"You could tell he was [ticked] off. You could tell he was upset with himself."
Wentz spoke to his teammates as if he would be part of avenging the loss. With a 4-2 record, North Dakota State had put its playoff hopes in jeopardy with seven games to play. But Wentz had yet to realize that he had fractured his right wrist during the first half.
His regular season was over, and playing in the postseason was in doubt. But it was what Wentz did off the field that helped spur the Bison to a nine-game winning streak that culminated with a fifth straight Football Championship Subdivision title, Smith said. He led from the sidelines as a pseudo coach and gave another impassioned speech before the regular-season finale.
But his comments after the South Dakota game "turned the season around," Smith said. And when the players were told that Wentz was lost for the season, the rest of the team rallied knowing the Bison wouldn't have their quarterback to bail them out.
"I think it actually sparked us, made us work harder," Smith said. "I don't know if we would have worked that hard had Carson stayed."
Wentz is unlikely to have as much of an off-the-field impact on the Eagles this season. He may have been the No. 2 overall draft pick, but the rookie quarterback is slated to sit behind starter Sam Bradford and backup Chase Daniel when the season opens.
He may be as well- equipped as any top draft pick to handle a lesser role. Wentz didn't start at quarterback in high school until he was a senior. He sat for three seasons before he earned the starting nod in college. And he watched as backup Easton Stick guided North Dakota State to the title game last year in his absence.
"I've done it before," Wentz said last month, "so I know what kind of patience it takes."
There's an old adage about how it's hard to lead from the bench, but Wentz may have to tone down his natural fiery instincts - especially in comparison with the subdued Bradford. The same could apply to Daniel, who is also more expressive than the starter.
But it's the rookie who will be the center of attention when training camp opens Monday. Some fans will finally see what was seemingly evident during spring workouts - that Wentz, while still far from ready, has the tools to thrive in the NFL. And his on-field demeanor is that of a natural-born leader.
"He's clapping, he's cheering, he's rallying the guys," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "If a guy makes a mistake, he's like, 'Let's get it again.' And that's the type of guy Carson is."
A different approach
The Eagles will want Wentz to remain true to himself. But he has to be cognizant of his role and of upstaging the other quarterbacks. He seems to have already gotten the message. While his spring news conferences were as well-attended as Bradford's, Wentz's answers were rote in comparison with how he spoke after he was drafted.
He has never uttered a controversial word, but it's clear that he will be deferential to the veterans.
"Coming out of college everyone talks about it just being a business - everyone is kind of there to get theirs and everything," Wentz said. "Coming in here, it's just a bunch of awesome guys. It's a really good locker room, a really close-knit group. And that's been a real positive surprise for me."
But Eagles coaches won't want Wentz to cower before the competition. Pederson essentially set the depth chart for the opener once Bradford rescinded his trade demands. But Wentz had as many spring practice repetitions as the other quarterbacks and is expected to get more than the typical third-stringer when camp starts.
The No. 1 job may not be open, but Wentz should compete as if it were.
"You've got that fire inside you. That's part of what gets those guys on that field," Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. "That's not the greatest quality in the world. There are other great qualities that people have in other professions.
"But in this profession that's a quality that you need, that just needs to be off the charts. You need to be off-the-charts hyper-competitive to make it at this level."
Even though Wentz won't be getting first- or second-team repetitions, or likely anything other than scout-team snaps once the season starts, he will need to take advantage of every opportunity, however few there may be. But his focus, according to Reich, should be on "contribution, not credit."
"Don't worry about being a star quarterback. Don't worry about getting credit for this or for that," Reich said. "Just do your job and contribute to the team. . . . I think that when you focus on being the star, it's counterproductive."
A man of faith
Wentz could have decided to bag the rest of his senior season after his wrist injury and begin preparing for the draft. The earliest he could have played would have been in the title game. But during his "senior speech" before the regular-season finale, he announced to the team that he had every intention of playing if healthy.
"Just knowing Carson, I knew he would be back," said Smith, who was also a captain. "We all knew the timetable. We all knew it would have been the last game. It was up to us to make it to the last game to give him that opportunity."
Wentz did and, of course, North Dakota State won. He has said that his religious faith has kept him humble. He led Bible study groups every Wednesday, according to Smith.
"I think he's a man of faith first," Smith said. "That's the biggest thing. He puts his faith above everything else. He does it day in and day out."
Wentz has "AO1," which stands for "Audience of One," tattooed on his right wrist. And imprinted on his upper back is "Isaiah 41:10."
"So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."