MOBILE, Ala. — North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz grew up a Vikings fan, a deep admirer of Brett Favre and a dreamer.
Wentz was raised in Bismarck, North Dakota, but was born in North Carolina in December 1992, as Favre was finishing his first season as a starter in the NFL.
Wentz has arrived this week in Mobile, Alabama, not too far from Favre's hometown of Kiln, Mississippi, for the annual Reese's Senior Bowl, an all-star game that featured Favre back in 1991.
"I grew up as a Vikings fan. They were the closest team, but I always loved watching Brett Favre," Wentz said Monday at the game's opening press conference. "I loved his grittiness, his competitiveness, his gunslinger mentality, and I love the way that guy just had fun out there. He brought the energy every day. You'd see him running around, throwing touchdowns. He wasn't all about himself. He was sprinting down there, giving guys high-fives, and just the energy he brought. I loved every bit of it."
Wentz, stood about a block from where two pictures of Favre are displayed in the Reese's Senior Bowl Museum, as told media members of his journey and a couple of well-timed growth spurts to his current 6-foot-5, 231-pound frame.
Wentz and his Bison teammate, tackle Joe Haeg, chatted in their hotel room Sunday night, taking a moment to reflect on time that has seemed to zoom faster than a Favre spiral.
Wentz and Haeg were part of a team that won its fifth straight FCS title. After starting the past two seasons, Wentz flew to California to train in the short window between the championship and what's called an "ultimate NFL job fair."
"It's going to take some time for it to set in, what we really accomplished at North Dakota State and the whirlwind we've been on," Wentz said. "All we know is winning championships, and that's something that not many people can say. I'm very blessed, more than I could imagine. As a kid, you grow up, you want to play at a Division I football program, you want to play in the NFL, you want to win Super Bowls, and right now, the stars are aligning to take that step by step."
Now, they'll team up for one last time this week as members of the North squad for practices and Saturday's game. Personnel and coaching staffs of all 32 teams have converged the way the rivers and creeks meet here in Mobile Bay.
"It's sort of amazing that Mobile, Alabama, becomes the unofficial NFL convention, but that's sort of what it is," said Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage, adding that the ratio of about nine NFL employees to every player is more favorable this week than at any part of the pre-draft process.
Wentz and the players on the North will be coached by Jason Garrett and the rest of the Cowboys staff. The South squad is being coached by Zumbrota, Minnesota native Gus Bradley.
Savage said Senior Bowl staff started with a "watch list this summer" and evaluated about 250 players in person to build the depth chart. The former coach, scout and Browns general manager has tried to create a game and week of experiences that best benefit players and teams since arriving in June 2012.
"I went and saw 40 different teams in person this year. That's virtually what a scouting director would do for an NFL club," Savage said. "When I got here in June of 2012, I said we need to turn the Reese's Senior Bowl into the 33rd NFL franchise. We try to approach it that way, in terms of building the roster out, but certainly that experience of being on the other side of it and understanding what the NFL people are looking for from the Senior Bowl has helped us make the event, from our standpoint, bigger and better than before."
Asked about Wentz being coached by a former quarterback in Garrett and Scott Linehan, who was Vikings offensive coordinator 2002-04, Savage said:
"I think it's a real positive. I think Jason will do a tremendous job with the game here. Jason was our quarterback at the San Antonio Riders when I was our coach there for six weeks back in 1991," Savage said. "It's kind of come full circle. They have to make plans at some point for the post-Tony Romo-era, and I would certainly think being able to compare Carson Wentz up close and personal with the other candidates that are out there would be helpful to them."
Of all the players here, Savage said he's most interested in seeing Wentz and Southern Utah safety Miles Killebrew because he didn't make it to Fargo or Cedar City, Utah, despite all of his other travels.
"From everything I saw on the field of Wentz on video and from talking to people in the league, he's big, 6-5, 231, he's got a strong arm, he's very athletic, he's in an offense that's more conventional to the NFL rather than all the spread type of stuff," Savage said, "and even though he's coming from the FCS, he's got a lot of traits that people think will carry over to the NFL. I think he's going to be the most watched player here.
"Hopefully, we're keeping our fingers crossed that he ends up being the face of the franchise for us at the Reese's Senior Bowl," Savage added. "The reality of it is, if Carson Wentz goes in the top 10, what a feather in his cap it's going to be, but also for us, in terms of trying to convince quarterbacks you should come in here and participate and play."