THE ENDLESS DANCE The 7-year-old was performed in its full kinetic glory on an early February day at Holy Redeemer School in Marshall, Minnesota. The second graders in Ms. Klaith’s class hopped up and down their plexiglass-enclosed desks, talking together in their own delirious language, and treating each of life’s little revelations with frantic amazement. Everyone, it seemed, needed a toilet break immediately. Mrs. Klaith, a consummate professional, managed the chaos like an auctioneer.
The source of the excitement was quietly in a kitchen within sight of the beach in Pensacola, Florida. Trey Lance, former North Dakota state quarterback, likely top 5 pick in the April 29th NFL draft and currently the most famous alumnus of the Holy Savior, caused the excitement by appearing on a computer screen and beaming his smile at a school more than 1,300 miles away.
Lance started the discussion by telling a gathering of kindergarten through eighth grade students that he had never been tutored by Ms. Klaith because “she wasn’t a fan of mine at the time” (Ms. Klaith, in short, replied). Trey, I would have liked to have taken you to second grade “).
The children had questions, and when the 25 minute session began, those questions managed to come up with answers that cunningly revealed. When asked about his favorite memory of the Holy Savior, Lance said, “Had to be the eighth grade carnival.” The first thing he does every morning is read a book (currently: “Blink”) and then watch a sermon online that is usually given by evangelical pastors Steven Furtick or Michael Todd. His favorite prayer is “Hail, Holy Queen,” and he finds it strange that he is entering a world where a possible occupation “requires X-rays and MRI scans of pretty much my entire body. It’s kind of strange too think it’s a thing for you. ” Job. “When Ms. Klaith forwarded the next question,” Can you run or throw better? “- Lance looked around as if suspecting an NFL scout had infiltrated the chat.” I think we’ll see what everyone else thinks, “he said.” It’s not up to me at this point. It’s what other people think of me, which is kind of weird to think about, but that’s it today. “
20-year-old Lance smiled, laughed, and generally acted like someone not so far from second grade that he couldn’t channel the general mood. “What’s my number?” he asked, repeating a question. “Is that my phone number or my jersey number? My jersey number is 5, but I can’t give you my phone number.” He asked them if they were still playing Foursquare during recess, which led someone to ask if they would return to play Foursquare with them after doing the NFL. “Ill certainly Be back to play Foursquare, “said Lance, causing a little riot.”and go to HRS basketball games. “
Lance’s face – smooth young man, with eyes that furrow with every smile and eyebrows that are raised in a permanent state of curiosity – appears to be genetically engineered for happiness. It’s a big world out there, full of temptation, jealousy, and free security who swear they didn’t hear the whistle, but at that moment Lance is unaffected by it. In this face, skepticism seems to be dying.
“Going to school with a smile on your face can make a big impact,” he told second graders. “You don’t know what someone is going through right next to you at home. Asking people how they’re doing may be weird and awkward at first, but your positive energy can change your life and the lives of others.”
When he’s not giving tweens life advice, Lance is the most mysterious potential star in this month’s NFL draft. He’s 6-foot-4 and 226 pounds, played in a pro-style offense in college that required him to read on the line, run 40 in about 4.5 seconds and, in response to a question, the Students at Holy Redeemer told that he once threw a ball 79 yards. “But that was a while ago,” he said. “I think I can beat this now.” It sounded more like a side than a flex.
In truth, Lance seems to have been created only to confuse and seduce NFL decision-makers. He demonstrated all of the physical (speed, arm strength, accuracy) and mental (ability, defense, leadership, reading pattern identity) traits that NFL scouts are looking for, but in just a few iterations to assess their utility at the next level. Lance introduces a puzzle that no longer seemed possible: He’s an underexposed quarterback.
Lance played 17 games for FCS North Dakota State, 16 of them as a Redshirt novice in 2019. His numbers for 2019 are cartoonish: 2,786 yards passing, 28 touchdowns and exactly zero interceptions in 287 attempts – an NCAA record for most attempts without interception. In two games he threw more touchdowns than incompleteness. He also ran 14 touchdowns and 1,100 yards (an impressive total, but probably half what the two glasses with glasses at the head of Mrs. Klaith’s class run on the average break).
After the pandemic wiped out the fall season for FCS schools, the state of North Dakota managed to play a game against Central Arkansas. The game was widely viewed as a game for one reason – to showcase Lance – but NDSU claimed it was a chance to play a game, any game at a time when schedules and regulations were in constant flux and the team up the campus was practicing and ready to go. Whichever explanation you choose, it was hands down one of the strangest events of a strange year. “The NFL likes to talk about pressure,” said Terry Bahlmann, Lance’s head coach at Marshall High. “Well, there was a lot of pressure on Trey in that game. It was like a farewell game for him, just a completely different mood.” Lance had his worst game, throwing his first and only college intercept in the first half but finishing 50 percent of his passes, running 143 yards, throwing two touchdowns and ending his career with a 17-0 record as a starter. As for bad games, it was damn good.
“Trey is probably the toughest assessment I’ve had in 11 years,” said Matt Miller, ESPN draft scout. “Seventeen starts is a very small picture to get a full idea of who a player is and it’s not just 17 but 17 against FCS competition. But I’ve never seen such a dominant player in these games If you trust the tape he should be the number 2 quarterback behind it on the draft (Trevor) Lawrence. “
Pre-draft analysis shows Lance won’t be the second drafted quarterback (BYU) Zach Wilson, we are told is almost assured to go to the jets in second place), but there’s a rare sense of real uncertainty as to whether Lance, Ohio State Justin Fields or Alabamas Mac Jones is taken from the 49ers with the third choice. In the mimetic world of the NFL, where there is no quarterback except compared to someone else, Lance is a generation conundrum. If you get it right, a franchise can change. It could also be wrong.
TREY LANCE WAS 5 years old when Carlton and Angie Lance were preparing for a big Saturday morning at the local park. Carlton, a former Canadian Football League defender who is a Hall of Famer at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, planned this: he and Trey would ride Trey’s bike to the park, at which point Carlton removed the training wheels and continued teaching the elder of his two sons would learn how to ride two wheels.
“Oh, it was a big deal,” says Angie. “Really a big deal.”
They came to the park, put down the extra bikes, and got down to the job of a serious bond. “OK, mate,” said Carlton. “You can do that.” He walked next to his son and kept his hand on the seat, doing all the things Papa was supposed to do until – about five seconds after this big deal – he realized he was even less important than the training wheels. Trey raced out of his grasp and rode through the park like he was ready for a unicycle. They were gone about 10 minutes when Carlton and Trey returned to the house.
Angie met Carlton at the door. “What happened?” she whispered, just in case it had gone bad. Carlton shrugged. “Nothing – Trey can ride a bike now.”
This is an anecdotal way of letting the world know that it is best not to make the mistake – like me – of suggesting to Carlton Lance that Trey Lance is a late bloomer. When I told Angie what I had done, embarrassed, she said, “Oh, you Not. People keep saying, “Oh, Trey must have gotten so much better than he was at NDSU.” It really makes Carl angry. “
What Carlton said in response was far more diplomatic than his wife would have suspected, but his voice took on a sharper tone the moment the description hit his ears. “No, Trey is not a late bloomer,” he said, each syllable lined up like barbed wire. “Everything you’ve seen him, he’s done since he was in high school. From that point on we were just looking for an opportunity. Did I see it explode like this? No, but I was hopeful.”
Perhaps to forestall another question, Carlton volunteers: “Trey’s had a good upbringing: two-parent home, good grades, no problems. That’s another box I would check.” It’s tacit confirmation that Character problems is a label that has historically been over-proportionally fixated on black quarterbacks. Trey’s North Dakota offensive coordinator, former NFL quarterback Randy Hedberg, tells NFL people, “Trey can wear a franchise with his personality. When he walks into a room, you know who he is.”
Carlton, a financial analyst, was a volunteer defense assistant with Marshall. “He was one of our strictest coaches,” he says Blaise Andries, now an offensive device at the University of Minnesota. “Hard love, but it was always love.”
Trey was in his sophomore year when his dad told him he wasn’t tough on kick reporting. “Yes, I am,” said Trey. Carlton went to the movie where the two sat down to see who was right. Carlton paused the screen in one place and asked, “Trey, is that an offensive lineman?” Trey nodded. “Are you faster than him?” Another nod. “Then why does he hit you in the field?” Period, Carlton. “It never ran again,” he says. It was around this time that Carlton began to say, “The only one who is stopping Trey is Trey.” It soon developed into a motivating call and response. “Who is stopping Trey?” Carlton would ask and Trey would reply, “Trey.”
The biggest hurdle Lance faced in college recruiting was the same as with draft assessment: there was just never enough of him. At Marshall High, he was routinely pulled out of games at halftime, with his team leading five or six touchdowns. “The hype surrounding Trey was not great,” says Bahlmann in a classic piece of southwestern drought in Minnesota, as brittle as the crunch of snow underfoot. “He just didn’t have the stats. He only played the whole game once in his junior year. If we got up at 40 at halftime, what should I do? Let him in and let him throw?”
It’s easy to miss when you’re from Marshall, a town of 14,000 people and a high school team that went three hours to play a school of its size. (“Mostly farm kids who love to smear and shoot people with airsoft guns,” says the state of South Dakota, running back Jefferson Lee V.who, along with Lance, was one of the few black players at Marshall. “Man, I don’t like mud at all.”) Lance tossed the ball 65 yards in the air and ran through the defenders, but if there’s no one to see it, did it really happen? Two Iowa coaches came to a game only to see Lance take a 54-0 lead at halftime. He barely threw a pass all night, and Iowa walked away without knowing what they saw or didn’t see. “I could be partly to blame,” jokes the high school teammate Reece Winkelman, a defensive end in the state of South Dakota. “I know I haven’t helped his stats. I had an average of 28 meters per catch as a close end my senior year, but only because I dropped all the short passes because Trey’s arm strength was unreal. I would do the short ones hit down because I didn’t want to break a finger. “
Boise State was Lance’s only BCS quarterback offer, and it came the day before the day of signing. He had Big Ten offers to play either security or linebacker. At some point in his high school career, he found himself on the worn and sometimes encrypted path from “quarterback” to “athlete”. Minnesota recruited him as quarterback until Tracy Claeys, P. J. Fleck, took over. At this point, the Gophers switched, offering Lance the opportunity to play defense. “U of M stung for about half an hour,” says Angie Lance. “Trey didn’t need any consolation or confirmation. We just looked after what was there.”
It’s the plug and play story: the overlooked athlete goes to college or professional sports to cultivate the massive chip on his shoulder. He’s either under-recruited by high school or under-hired by the professionals, and from that point on every fiber of his being is directed to proving the doubters otherwise. He holds on to certain little things and shovels them into his inner oven to overcome any challenge. Damian Lillard writes rap songs about the high school coach who suggested the NBA may not be in his future. Aaron Rodgers has neither forgotten nor forgiven Cal’s highly-recruited teammate who tried to call him “JuCo” when he arrived on campus from a community college.
But how about a man who was overlooked but didn’t really care? Who hasn’t turned every perceived insult into a cause for life? Is it possible to be more grateful for the opportunity than bitter for those who have been turned down? Is it strange for an athlete to want to get better for the mere challenge and not out of spite?
Lance was a guest on a youth sports podcast last February and was asked if he got attention for his record-breaking, undefeated season in the state of North Dakota – an FCS powerhouse that Carson Wentz claims as an alumnus – made his life more difficult. “I don’t know if it’s as hard as people think,” he said. “It’s about eliminating the negative energy. I believe in bringing positive energy into the universe and bringing things to life.”
On a bleak February night in Fargo, shortly after Lance finished his red shirt season, Lance received a call from a former high school teammate. Blaise Andries was a year ahead of Lance at Marshall High and was in Minnesota in his sophomore year as an offensive player. It was about 8pm. on a Tuesday and Andries was checking in.
“What are you doing?” Asked Andries.
“I’m in the stadium watching a movie,” said Lance.
“Film of what?”
“I’m breaking down some NFL defenses.”
Andries left that hanging there. His friend, who wore a red shirt as a future professional Easton Stick led North Dakota State to a second straight title, sat in the Fargodome on a random Tuesday night – in the off-season — Breakdown of the movie on the NFL defense.
“First of all, why aren’t you doing schoolwork?” Said Andries. “And second, you learn NFL Defense? “
Andries tells me this story about Zoom from his apartment in Minneapolis. On the desk in front of him is a pile of worksheets with numbers and formulas. As a math major, he set out to become an actuary but then grew to 6-foot-6 and 335 pounds and got good enough at offensive tackles that his dream will likely be delayed by an NFL career.
“Is what Trey did normal?” Asks Andries. “Oh no — very abnormal. This man lived in this stadium. Seriously, it’s an obsession. He was looking ahead at a time when no one thought he should look ahead. There aren’t many people obsessed with anything like he does with football. “
Back at HRS, Ms. Klaith passed on questions that had been asked from every HRS classroom. Does Trey like being Bryce’s older brother? “Yes,” he said of the Marshall High Receiver, who will play at NDSU this fall. “He’s a lot more fun and exciting than me.” The sixth grade boys wanted to know his Xbox username, but Lance said he didn’t play enough to remember.
And shortly after refusing to name his favorite teacher – “I see about six of them here,” he laughed – he got a question that changed the mood.
LANCE LEANED IN, Reading the question from the chat function when calling the zoom. He read it mostly to himself, kind of sullenly, and his eyes narrowed the more he read, no doubt he wondered where it was going. More than anything, the look on his face seemed to indicate a gradual realization that he’d unknowingly got chin first on a friendly Zoom call with the most informative elementary school in the upper Midwest.
“There was an event you attended in Chicago high school,” Lance began. “All interviews say that you keep standing in front of the queue. Would you have acted differently that day, if you had known what you now know, how to be more aggressive and line up to face others?”
Lance leaned back in his chair and paused a little. “So I went to a camp in Chicago when I was in high school,” he began, telling the story.
It was an elite 11 quarterback camp the summer before senior year of high school, and it was a chance for the whole world to get a look at Trey Lance. It was also a chance for Trey Lance to get an idea of where he fits in this wider world. Most of the high school quarterbacks at camp were already anointed: smarter than Lance, from bigger places hyped by private coaches, offered scholarships before playing a college game. “I loved it,” says Carlton Lance. “We went there and said to Trey, ‘After my research and what I’ve looked at, I think you have it, but I don’t want to look at it through dad’s eyes. This is your chance to see where you are are state. ‘”
But immediately Carlton had the feeling that something was wrong. None of the coaches paid much attention to Trey and during the throwing exercises he noticed that Trey was not moving up the line. He would be third in line, two guys would do reps, and Trey would be second in line. “I’d see them cut him in line, and the next thing I know they’ll do Trey’s reps,” says Carlton. “I don’t want to sound like a sour grape because I don’t think Trey should be the only quarterback who moved on from there, but we thought it was a rating and we didn’t get that.”
Trey was calm on the drive home. Carlton said to Angie, “Well, at least we know we don’t have to go to the next camp.” Trey cut in: “I don’t even want to go.”
The lances were engaged in the dance of modern parents: are we doing enough? How much can we afford to spend and sacrifice for our son to make his dream come true? Can we sit back and expect college recruiters to find Marshall, Minnesota and, beyond the sparse statistics, see their son’s potential?
Recruiting services sent sales calls with the same guilty message: Your son is falling behind. Carlton kept pressing the same key: Do not put your value on others. Angie was torn; She wanted her son to have the best opportunity to succeed, but she also didn’t want her son to turn into a legitimate line cutter. “I would see kids play on two or three AAU basketball teams, go to summer camps, and compete in 7v7 tournaments in Florida, and I would ask Carl, ‘Are we doing enough?'” Says Angie. “He never wavered. He told me, ‘He’s good enough and they’ll find him. If he works hard and gets better, they’ll find him.'”
In the kitchen in Pensacola, Trey sat back and put the answer in his head. Finally he leaned forward again so that his smile filled the screen. “So there were people waiting in line in front of me,” he said. “But would I do something differently? No, I really don’t think so. It’s not my personality, and that was all in the plan for me to struggle in this camp and be frustrated. In the end it was definitely a good experience. “
The questions ended and Mrs. Klaith thanked Lance as the two boys with glasses stormed across the screen and waved frantically. Lance laughed and said, “It was great to see you guys.”
As you read this, NFL scouts are popping up into the depths of Trey Lance’s 17 game tapes looking for flaws. You question the competition. You question the scope of the data set. They question the ability of someone who has played in limited games against limited competition to grasp the nuances of NFL defense fast enough to deserve a top 5 pick. Sure, you’ll see arm strength and the ability to throw both ways on the barrel. You see the personality his coaches believe can carry a franchise. You see a football-obsessed QB who studied NFL defense before even taking a college snap and who still manages to be goofy with second graders. Some of these scouts will no doubt fall in love with each other. Some have pointless fear. Some can be assumed to be both. Forgive them their torment; There is a good chance that they have never been faced with such circumstances before and never will again.
Trey Lance could do a franchise or roll it back. The evolution of the position from niche obsession to national fetish has spawned a kind of pointless over-analysis that reduces the draft to a binary sentence: 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 guesswork than anyone in business would like to admit.
What do you think? Carlton Lance believes his son will never let another man define his worth. Trey believes he can bring success to the universe. And the kids at Holy Redeemer School, especially the two boys with glasses who said goodbye on the computer screen, believe Trey Lance will be back to play Foursquare.