NDSU Freshmen ‘Neck-and-Neck’ in Backup Quarterback Battle

Holden Hotchkiss and Noah Sanders are competing for the backup job behind Easton Stick

FARGO, N.D. — NDSU football is one-third of the way through spring practices.

Head coach Chris Klieman said that this spring was going to be all about highlighting the younger players to establish more depth. Quarterback Easton Stick’s backup exhausted his eligibility in the fall, leaving a spot open for two underclassmen to duke it out for the position.

If you think the hype surrounding the backup quarterback battle at NDSU is a bit overblown, consider this: Not only are the two redshirt freshmen fighting over the job likely to get the reins for the next three years after Easton Stick is gone. But, also remember what happened the last time a redshirt freshman was the backup quarterback.

Stick replaced injured Carson Wentz and took the team to a national championship game. His experience with that situation makes him invaluable to the younger guys.

“Easton has been great with the two younger quarterbacks and helping us learn everything,” Holden Hotchkiss said. “He’s been a great friend in it and a great coach in it.”

Quarterbacks Hotchkiss and Noah Sanders are extrememly competetive on the field, but there’s no animosity between them.

“It’s a fight for the backup job, but at the same time it’s one of my best friends on the team,” Sanders said. “We’re living with each other next year. We’re both really close and we try to learn from each other as well as Easton and coach [Randy] Hedberg. So, we better each other by battling against each other each and every day, so I think that helps a ton.”

Stick being right in the mix with the two backups gives him an opportunity to serve as an extension of the coaching staff, and he’s leaving them with plenty of advice.

“Don’t ever walk out of here without improving at one little thing you have to do,” Hotchkiss said of Stick’s advice. “Don’t go for it all at once. Just get it as it comes.”

Sanders is also learning from the Senior.

“Go through the plays we’re running the next day. Draw them up,” he said. “That’s how [Stick] learned. He talked about how he learned a lot and how he went through that process and the steps he went through to better himself at the position.”

Despite five more months until the first game, the opener is looming large.

“Oh yeah. There’s a lot more pressure,” Holden said. “During the fall, you knew you were redshirting. You knew there was no chance of anything. Now that it’s time to go, there’s a lot of pressure on you.”

“My goal at the start of spring was just to improve every practice, and I feel today was better than four and four was better than three and three was better than two and so on,” Sanders added. “I feel like that’s my goal every day is to be getting better each and every practice. I’m definitely not satisfied with today, but I’m happy with the direction I’m headed.”

When it comes down to it, there’s one determining factor that coach Klieman is looking for that’ll separate one from the other.

“The big thing is protecting the football,” he said. “We cannot have a crazy turnover. You’ve got to make great decisions. But I thought they performed well today. We’ll see the film. But the first few days I thought they were a little inexperienced and they’re going to gain it every day, especially going against the defense that we have.”

And, if you’re eager for a decision to be made between the two QBs, don’t hold your breath.

“It’s going to be a dead heat in my mind all the way through August, because you’re just – in about 15 practices and essentially 12 practices – I don’t think we’re going to have that separation,” Klieman said. “We need both of them to continue to move forward so that by the end of august we can make a great determination.”

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