After months of speculation, former Bismarck Century and North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz has joined the ranks of elite North Dakota athletes given the opportunity to make it big in professional sports. Wentz was selected No. 2 by the Philadelphia Eagles in Thursday’s National Football League draft.
Had Wentz gone No. 1, however, he would have been the second North Dakotan born here and having played their prep careers here – to be selected No. 1 in one of the big four (baseball, basketball, football, hockey) sports. That honor still belongs solely to Jamestown’s Darin Erstad. In 1995, the California Angels drafted Jamestown’s Erstad No. 1 after he completed his college football and baseball career at Nebraska. In 1992, he had been taken in the 13th round by the New York Mets but opted to be a two-sports standout at Nebraska instead. Erstad won an NCAA I-A national football championship with the Huskers and went on to have an all-star 14-year career, win Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger and a World Series.
Wentz is the epitome of North Dakota – humble, talented, hard-working, fun loving. Here’s hoping that those qualities lead to a career as big or bigger those who preceded him. Other North Dakotans – those born here and starring in high school here – have gone on to make it on the big stage.
In the NFL, Carrington’s Jim Kleinsasser (Vikings second round 1999), played 13 seasons; Oakes’ Phil Hansen (Buffalo second round 1991) played 11 seasons; Cando’s Dave Osborn (Vikings 13th round 1965) played 12 seasons; and Wahpeton’s Steve Myhra (Baltimore 12th round 1956) played five years. Parshall’s Randy Hedberg (Tampa Bay seventh round 1977) started four games at quarterback his rookie year.
In basketball, Bowbells’ Les Jepsen was selected with the first pick of the second round of the 1990 NBA draft by the Golden State Warriors. He played two years in the NBA. Devils Lakes’ Glenn Hansen was taken with the 13th pick in the second round of the 1975 draft by the Kansas City Kings. He played three seasons.
In hockey, Cliff “Fido” Purpur of Grand Forks was the first native North Dakotan in the NHL, playing for St. Louis in 1934. He played in the CHL, NHL, AHA, AHL and USHL until 1947. Bismarck High School head coach Mike Peluso, a Bismarck native, was drafted in the 10th round of the 1994 draft. He played for the Chicago Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers of the NHL before retiring after the 2004 season.
In baseball, Travis Hafner of Sykeston, who was drafted in the 31st round of the 1996 draft by the Texas Rangers, spent a season in Texas and was traded to Cleveland where he played from 2003 to 2012. He spent 2013 with the New York Yankees before retiring. Rick Helling of Devils Lake was the 22nd pick of the 1992 draft by Texas. He pitched 12 years for Texas, Florida, Arizona, Baltimore and Milwaukee.
Now it's Wentz's turn to carry the torch for North Dakota.