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Trey’s big night

AP photo North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance smiles as he is interviewed at the school’s NFL Pro Day in Fargo, N.D., on March, 12. Lance will likely be one of the first two players drafted from non-Football Bowl Subdivision programs during the NFL draft starting tonight and finishing this weekend.

It was always a dream for Trey Lance to play sports at the next level. Tonight, that dream might come true.

The Marshall native and North Dakota State University quarterback is projected to be among the top selections in this year’s NFL Draft which begins tonight in Cleveland, Ohio.

“People ask us if we’re excited,” Trey’s father, Carlton said. “Yes, we’re excited but it’s really another checkmark on a long list of things Trey wants to accomplish.”

‘A tough decision’

After Trey helped lead NDSU to its eighth Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) National Championship in program history in January 2020, capping a perfect 16-0 season, he looked to come back the following season in search of another championship. But two months later came the COVID-19 pandemic and Trey had a decision to make: stay for another season or test the waters of the 2021 draft class?

Angie, Trey’s mother, said while it might have seemed like a simple decision to some, it was far from it. As the pandemic shut everything down, Trey was sent home during the spring and the Lance family sat down to discuss what move was next for them.

“It might have been an obvious decision to a lot of people, but for Trey it was a really hard one,” Angie said. “When they sent him home last April because of the COVID shutdown, it became more obvious that we needed to think about the next steps. During that time when he was at home, we were contacted by a lot of agencies and had many Zoom calls so it was time we used well and we wanted to narrow things down so that when he went back to campus that was done with. 

“I didn’t want him to be overwhelmed and wanted him to feel comfortable. When he went back, he worked out and prepared for the fall season and we figured we would talk about things again hopefully after another national championship. Once we learned the fall season was canceled and then found out they would only get one game we had more conversations.”

The day after the Bison defeated Central Arkansas 39-28 in their only game of the fall season, Angie said Trey had an idea of whether he was going to stay in college for another season or declare for the draft and that his decision was based on more than just football.

“On Oct. 4, he said he had a pretty good idea of what he wanted to do and we supported him and based on how hard it was to leave, it had nothing to do with football,” Angie said.

On Oct. 6, Trey made his official decision, announcing on Twitter that he was forgoing the remainder of his collegiate career and declaring for the draft in April.

“I wanted nothing more than to battle with my brothers this Fall and bring home another National Championship to North Dakota State, but I’m thankful for the one opportunity that we had as a team in 2020,” Lance said on his Twitter account that day. “I’m also extremely grateful to everyone who has helped me make it to this point. After an amazing experience here at North Dakota State University, it is time for me to begin my next chapter. I am excited to announce that I will be taking the next step in chasing my dreams and will be declaring for the 2021 NFL draft.”

Lance praised his coaches, teammates, family and his faith in the video of his decision, thanking them for their incredible support and for pushing him each and every day.

“To my current and former coaches here at North Dakota State — I cannot thank you enough for believing in me and I am forever grateful for the opportunity to play for this great University. To my teammates — thank you for always having my back. You are my best friends and brothers and I would not be in this position without you and I love each and every one of you. To Bison Nation – thank you for accepting me for who I am and for supporting our team throughout this incredible ride. I will always cherish my time here and words cannot describe the blessing it was to be a part of bringing a National Championship home to you,” Lance said. “To my family — thank you for your unconditional love and support, through all of the ups and downs. Thank you to my brother, Bryce, for being with me every step of the way and always pushing me to be the best version of myself. Lastly, I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Without him, none of this is possible; God blessed me with the ability to play football and the opportunity to be a part of something bigger than myself. Once a Bison, Always a Bison.”

Carlton said leaving all of his teammates and coaches behind in Fargo, especially after the special season they just endured, was incredibly tough but knows Trey is at peace with his decision.

“It was a tough decision for him to leave his friends and teammates and coaches, especially after winning a national championship the season before,” Carlton said. “When they (NDSU) were looking at a spring season, they would end up having two seasons in a calendar year because of COVID, but that doesn’t include all of the other factors that go into it. After the great ride they had in 2019, we’ll miss that, but he’s at peace with the decision and it was right one for him.”

Carlton had plenty of experience at the next level. After a strong collegiate career for Southwest Minnesota State University during which he was a two-sport athlete in football and track and field and was named to the Mustangs’ Hall of Honor in 2011, Carlton played one season with the Saskatchewan Rough Riders in the Canadian Football League and made the All-Rookie team. He then spent another season in the World League playing for the London Monarchs and also attended training camps for both the Houston Oilers and San Francisco 49ers.

Carlton said the advice he’s offered to his son on the NFL was similar to that of playing at the college level: work hard and always be prepared.

“First that it’s a business and second, which I said with the college process, to always be prepared going into things,” Carlton said. “The biggest difference between being a good and great player is the work ethic. I always say ‘What are you willing to do for a championship?’ and understanding what it will take to get there. And then just to enjoy it.”

‘A passion for football’

Growing up in Marshall, Trey and his younger brother Bryce spent the majority of their days playing whatever sport in the backyard. And while the sibling battles sometimes ended in a few scrapes or tears, none of that mattered at the end of the day and the two would start it all over the next day.

“We were very competitive,” Bryce said. “There were definitely a few backyard brawls not always ending the best but at the end of the day we were still brothers and be playing the very next day, so it was all good.”

Bryce added his older brother has always been there for him whether it was on the field or off and is grateful for everything Trey has taught him.

“Trey is my best friend. Growing up, whether it was on or off the field, he would teach me in sports and in life and I’m really appreciative for that,” Bryce said.

Angie said both of her boys played football, basketball and baseball, adding that Trey was between basketball and football when deciding which sport to play in college, but football was always his passion.

“Both of our boys played three sports (football, basketball and baseball); Trey gave up baseball after two years in high school because it was conflicting with football camps. He was also a really good basketball player, but he always had a passion for football,” Angie said. “We knew he could have opportunities with basketball, but not nearly at the level he had with football and playing a Division I sport was the number one goal for Trey.”

Carlton also had the opportunity to coach both of his kids at the youth and high school level and said he loved getting to do it and that it was great to watch Trey grow into the player he is today.

“It was awesome. I think most parents would love to coach their kids,” Carlton said. “I coached Trey in all three sports and it was great to see how he grew into the player he is today and see all of the hard work come to fruition.”

Being put in the spotlight

Throughout Lance’s championship season at NDSU, the national attention on the quarterback grew more and more with each game. And in a digital age where every move people — especially athletes — make is monitored, critiqued and discussed on social media platforms by hundreds of thousands of users, it can take a toll on those around them. 

Angie said they’ve been able to get a little more used to the attention surrounding their family and doesn’t get bothered with comments about Trey’s play on the field, but takes more offense when it comes to comments about her son off the field.

“It’s been a roller coaster, but we’ve gotten more accustomed to it. I’m not offended when people go after his play on the field, Trey’s going to make mistakes,” Angie said. “I do get offended when they say things about his character. After last summer with all of the social injustices going on, a lot of people had strong opinions and what I have a hard time with is when people are attacking his character for speaking out for what he thinks is right.”

Carlton added that it’s important for their family to have a strong bond with one another and encourages their children to be positive role models.

“Everyone is a critic, but with our family it’s about trying to be a positive role model. I’ll take note, but I don’t pay attention of what the critics say. It could be a 12-year-old with a podcast saying something, but we’ve had 20 years with our son. When it comes to attacking his character, we take more offense to that than his game. We know Trey’s skillset and feel comfortable with his game and we have to get used to people talking about him and just growing thicker skin, but it’s all about us being a tight-knit group and being able to drown out the noise,” he said.

Angie said that faith has always been important to their family and it is at the top of her list of the four things she wants her boys to strive for each day.

“I want four things for my boys; to be faithful, be kind, be happy and stay healthy,” Angie said. “Faith is the top of the list; Trey loves football but knows and will tell you that it’s not why he was put on this Earth. He will use this platform to live out His plan.”

Over the years, Angie said the Marshall community has been an incredible place to raise their family and they are extremely grateful for all of the support they’ve received.

“Marshall has been a wonderful place and we’re so thankful for all of the support,” Angie said. “People here know he’s just Trey and doesn’t come with any other expectations. He doesn’t come with any celebrity; he wants to be Trey like he’s always been. For 18 years, people know he’s a good kid and the few times he’s in town, he’s always thrilled to catch up with people.”

Angie said they will be in Cleveland for the draft, with roughly 30 people going and 10 being in the green room with Trey. She said since Trey declared in October, he’s been constantly on the move from one coast to the other.

“He’s been basically living out of a suitcase by himself for six months and it’s been a lot on him,” Angie said. “He was traveling to meet with different trainers and has pretty much been back and forth across the country three times, so he’s looking forward to finally getting settled and start building relationships.”

Carlton added while they’re ready to celebrate a life-changing moment for their family with their son, they know it’s just another item on the checklist.

“Just getting through it. We’ve been going through the process of getting an agent, scheduling the pro day and training, so it’s another thing on the checklist,” Carlton said. “Once he gets drafted, we’ll find out what his situation will be and celebrate and then it’s on to the next system.”

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