- Associated Press - Thursday, February 11, 2016

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota State coaches enjoyed some free advertising while they were on the recruiting trail for this year’s class.

Standout quarterback Carson Wentz was fresh off a dramatic national championship victory and wowing Senior Bowl observers when the Bison staff was putting the finishing touches on more than two dozen new recruits, most of whom showed as much interest in Wentz as the North Dakota State program.

The Bison cashed in.

“It was like a walking billboard for North Dakota State,” coach Chris Klieman said, referring to the week-long Senior Bowl publicity. “Some of the prospects and parents could see that you could make it from FCS. There were a lot of FCS players in that game, but you usually don’t see a quarterback.”

Wentz, projected by some experts to be selected as high as No. 2 in the NFL draft, has added a face to a program that has done all it can to make a name in the Football Championship Subdivision. The Bison won their fifth straight FCS title last month when Wentz, after missing 10 weeks with a broken wrist, made a hero’s entrance and exit in his last game.

The buzz for Wentz didn’t really take off until the Senior Bowl.

“When it came down to the Senior Bowl, those teams knew about him,” Bison quarterbacks coach Randy Hedberg said. “The national media probably wasn’t aware of him. There was (FBS players) Jared Goff, Paxton Lynch and Connor Cook. They probably didn’t know that this guy and FCS North Dakota State had this type of ability.”

The Bison had eight alumni in the NFL this past season, including Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley, but the program hasn’t had a player with this much buildup.

“The buzz around Carson is something that we haven’t seen,” Klieman said. “We’ve had a lot of good prospects who have either been drafted or have been free agents in the last five years. But with Carson’s notoriety, especially the way he was injured and came back to play in the championship game … this is probably a precedent around here.”

While Bison coaches are promoting Wentz’s story as a way to beat mid-major FBS schools for recruits with pro aspirations, others in the FCS appreciate the publicity it gives Division I football’s little brother. Mike Kern, associate commissioner of the Missouri Valley Football Conference, said Wentz’s rise to the top of the NFL draft board could be a boost for other small-college players.

“I wish I could say there was a direct correlation, but I do think that repeated success stories for players who came from FCS schools opens the door for more to do so,” Kern said. “There is a much smaller gap between FBS and FCS.”

There are several FCS quarterbacks on NFL rosters, including Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Jets, Joe Flacco of the Ravens and Josh McCown of the Browns. The last FCS QB to attract unusual draft attention was Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo, who wound up being taken by the New England Patriots late in the second round of 2014.

Unlike most of those players, Wentz made his mark despite starting just 2½ years at quarterback, including one year in high school. He sat behind standout Brock Jensen for two years at North Dakota State. After a full season last year, Wentz was sidelined for eight games this year with a broken wrist.

Backup Easton Stick, a redshirt freshman, went 8-0 in Wentz’s absence, adding to the storybook season.

“North Dakota State’s brand has become pretty well known over this five-year run,” NDSU sports information director Ryan Perrault said. “Carson has just added to that now.”

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