Physicality is one of the last things we think of at the quarterback position—and a quarterback with a linebacker mentality? That might have a negative connotation for some, but Trey Lance makes it work, and he does it the right way.
The former North Dakota State University quarterback has made that mindset and style of play work so well for him, in fact, that he’s projected to be chosen early in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft by most analysts.
Lance has stayed true to himself as a person and a player since his high school days. The signal-caller was a three-year starter at Marshall High School, where he played strong safety and quarterback under coach Terry Bahlmann. Bahlmann noticed his physicality and aggression from the start.
While many more have taken note of how powerful of a player Lance is since he graduated high school in 2018, the coach still believes people don’t have a full appreciation for the kid who was just 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds when he was being recruited in this particular category.
“I don’t think they know how physical he is,” Bahlmann said. “He was recruited as a linebacker by some Big Ten schools, but he wanted to be a quarterback. Truly a great football player, and very physical."
Current Bison quarterbacks coach Randy Hedberg noticed Lance’s “defensive mentality” immediately when he went to watch one of Lance’s senior high school performances. There’s one particular moment from that game that’s still firmly etched in Hedberg’s memory.
“I watched him come up and make a tackle,” Hedberg said. “It was a pretty physical tackle on the young man. I said after the game, I thought he would have been ejected if it was a college game, but the high school rules didn't pertain to him as much as the college rules would have.”
Lance saw some time as a rusher before high school, which probably plays a role in just how phenomenal of a runner he is.
"Trey was unique because as an eighth-grader, he was a running back and if he played any quarterback it was because we needed a backup,” Bahlmann said.
The time eventually came in which the team needed a backup quarterback, and it didn’t take too long before Lance assumed the starting role. In his sophomore year of high school, the senior quarterback ahead of him injured his elbow around Week 8 of the season.
“We needed a backup, and Trey volunteered to play backup quarterback in addition to running back,” Bahlmann said. “Then, as a freshman, he said he wanted to play quarterback, and we always let the kids move to the position they want. Of course, we saw him and saw the way he threw the football and carried himself.
It soon became clear the reins were Lance’s to lose.
“We left him there, and Trey took us to three consecutive state tournaments.”
In every NFL draft prospect’s career, there seems to be a turning point or some type of defining moment. But for Bahlmann, Lance’s full potential to become exactly what he is today shined through the very first time he started at quarterback.
“He looked like he was going to be a good football player. But when he got in the game and in the huddle and took it to another level, we knew he was gonna be a special player,” Bahlmann said.”
Bahlmann describes Lance as a “quiet leader” who was well-respected out of the gate. As far as fine-tuning goes, there wasn’t a lot of time to do that as Lance was a three-sport athlete in high school, but making those corrections has come in due time.
Lance is the best of two key aspects, according to Bahlmann.
"He's a hard worker,” Bahlmann said. “We always say that when you've got a player who is a hard worker and a good leader, you've got something special. That was always Trey."
Bahlmann views Lance as a player who is just getting started and one that we’ve had just a glimpse of his full potential. Looking at his maturity and how much he’s put out there on the football field, it’s easy to forget that Lance is only 20 years old.
"I think his upside separates him from everyone else. He's still growing and improving, and he’s young for the draft.”
One of the most impressive things about Lance as a passer is that he hardly ever misses. His collegiate touchdown-to-interception ratio stands at 30-to-1. His 2019 season was practically perfect, when he completed just under 67% of his passes for 2,786 yards with 28 touchdowns and zero interceptions.
It’s important to note that while Lance’s accuracy is plenty satisfactory, it’s more than that, really. The film shows missed opportunities by receivers that show Lance to be an even better passer than he gets credit for.
Lance’s statistics on the ground are unsurprisingly nothing short of impressive, as he recorded 1,325 rushing yards for 18 touchdowns at North Dakota State. That’s an ability he’ll carry over to the NFL—and he says he’ll do it carefully so—taking the same types of precautions he feels he always has.
“I pick and choose my battles,” Lance said. “If you watch my college tape, all 17 games, you don’t see me really take too many shots or pick a battle that I don’t win. I think it’s one of my strengths. I pick and choose my battles well as far as when to get down and when not to.”
Lance knows players he’ll be up against in the NFL are built differently and that there will be new risks involved for him in the ground game.
“I understand that guys are bigger, faster, and stronger at the next level, so I’m going to continue to do that.”
One aspect of his game that will stay totally consistent is his competitiveness. It didn’t take long for Bison defensive back draft prospect Marquise Bridges to take note of Lance’s nature. He says he has many stories about that, both on and off the field.
“I first found that out (how competitive he was) on the basketball court,” Bridges laughed. “We go back and forth in practice. It was pretty hard to get picks off of him. I can’t think of any I ever got off of him. I’m sure I have, but I don’t remember”
Bridges smiled and looked over to a staffer, who informed him that he did have a lone interception off Lance in practice.
“Just one,” he laughs. “The same thing y’all see on the football field is the same thing he did at practice. Even more, sometimes, maybe.”