Football, Family, Faith, and Philanthropy

Pro Bison Easton Stick '17 is more than just a quarterback.

Story by Micaela Gerhardt | Photos submitted by Bison Athletics | June 16, 2022

The game begins after dark on a zero-degree December evening. Bison fans bustle inside the Dome, while outside a light snow flutters over campus like prophetic confetti. Everyone is expecting a win on home turf — after all, the opposing team, James Madison, is up against the Bison’s five-year FCS Championship winning streak, and this is just the semifinals.

In the locker room, the mood is restless, eager. Easton Stick ’17, a starting quarterback and the first sophomore elected team captain in more than a decade, dons his green home jersey, number 12, and thinks, There’s no way we’re going to lose this.

Going into the game, he’s confident — winning is just what the Bison do. But by the end of the first half, NDSU is down 17 points. Things are especially hard on the offense; James Madison’s defense seems unstoppable. Then, the Bison make a solid run in the second half, the crowd goes crazy, and they force a turnover on the defense. The Bison tie 17-17 and find a new momentum.

“At that point, we’re like, here we go; we’re going to take the game over,” Easton said. “Well, we end up settling for a field goal; we miss a field goal. They go down and score. And before you know it, they’ve scored a couple more times and you realize the clock’s running out, and we’re not going to win this game.”

The 2016 FCS Semifinals ends in a 17-27 loss for the Bison. The next morning, the team wakes up on a quiet campus. The semester has ended, and most students have already headed home for winter break, but Easton can’t go anywhere. He’s in shock.

He takes some time to process, and then he has to make a decision: he can either turn his back on the loss or figure out what could have gone differently, what he could’ve done better. In this defining moment, Easton chooses to face defeat. It’s a decision that will impact the rest of his career at NDSU and his future in the NFL.

“Playing the position that I do, quarterback, you’re seen as a leader, and you see yourself that way, so you feel responsible,” Easton said. “I think taking that time to reflect lit a crazy fire under me and in my gut. I’m going, ‘I’ve got two more years, and as long as I’m here, we’re going to do this thing better than it’s ever been done.'”

*****

Before he came to NDSU, Easton had experienced very little failure. He began playing football at age 7, and he exceled as an athlete from that point on. Then, he arrived at NDSU in the shadow of a 6-foot-6 Carson Wentz and had to work his way from the backup bench to the starting line. Today, he finds himself in a similar position on the Los Angeles Chargers’ roster.

“You go from leading a program and being a starter to, shoot, now, a lot of times I’ve been inactive on Sundays, especially my first year,” Easton said. “Learning how to handle that has been a challenge, but one that’s been really good for me.”

No matter how talented you are, going from a college athlete to a professional athlete is a major transition, one that requires adaptability and patience. After his name was called in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, Easton packed his bags and headed to Orange County, California.

During his rookie year in the NFL, Easton had the opportunity to learn from two veteran quarterbacks, Tyrod Taylor and Philip Rivers. Now, he shares the quarterback room with Justin Herbert, one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL.

“I’ve been very fortunate to be around awesome, awesome people, and so I’ve learned a ton about the game and a ton about this league and just kind of how to operate and how to be professional,” Easton said.

Since his rookie year, the Chargers have experienced major turnovers: new coaches, three offenses over three years, and three different play callers.

“There’s always a learning curve that comes with that. It’s a little bit like learning a new language every year, just a new way of speaking — how you’re going to run the offense, how you want it to look, and just a ton of different faces,” Easton said.

Despite the challenges, he doesn’t question his commitment to the game. A lot of Easton’s motivation is rooted in that semifinals loss in 2016 and knowing he can emerge from setbacks as a stronger, better player.

“When I put my mind to it — like, this is what I want to do — I was all in on it, and I wasn’t going to sacrifice this opportunity for whatever it was,” Easton said. “I’m definitely happy with the road I’m on right now.”

*****

At the Championships in Frisco, Texas, during Easton’s final collegiate season, the sun shone brightly. The Bison kicked off the game against Eastern Washington University with a drive straight out of the playbook. NDSU scored early on, and it set the tone for the offense for the rest of the game.

It was an experienced team — it had been two years since NDSU’s devastating loss in the semifinals, and 24 players were seniors that year, making it the largest senior class in NDSU’s football program history. Together, many of the players had made it to the other side of some tough times.

“We had experienced what it felt like losing in ’16. We’d bounced back the next year to beat James Madison and kind of redeem that game, in a way,” Easton said. “We set some pretty big goals going into that last season. We wanted to go undefeated, and we wanted to be talked about as one of the better teams that’s ever played at North Dakota State. By the time we got to ’18, there was nothing that could stop us.”

Easton gravitated toward playing QB because it gave him a chance to be in the middle of the action, and he chose to play football because he loves the dynamic team element.
Easton gravitated toward playing QB because it gave him a chance to be in the middle of the action, and he chose to play football because he loves the dynamic team element.

During his final Championship game, Easton ran three touchdowns into the end zone — including one final touchdown with just over a minute left in the game — securing a 38-24 win for the Bison and making Easton the winningest starting quarterback in FCS history.

Reporter Theo Lawson described that last touchdown in a feature for The Spokesman Review,

Easton Stick’s final victory lap as a North Dakota State football player wasn’t a short parade around the painted edges of the grass surface at Toyota Stadium…

Actually, it was more of a dead sprint-turned-light jog as Stick motioned a handoff to his running back, pulled the ball back into his own arms and exploded through a crease in Eastern Washington’s defense, turning on the jets before slowly letting off as he crossed the goal line for a 46-yard scoring run.

Walking off the field for the last time, Easton hugged everybody — the coaches who’d mentored him and the players he’d been with nearly every day of the past five years.

“Some of these guys, you know, you truly feel like they’re family, and knowing this is the last time we ever get to do this was, I don’t know — it just brings out a lot because you think about all the times you’ve spent away from football, and you were at the lake in the summer or meeting their families out for dinner, and just the little things that were so unique and go way further than the time we had practicing and playing all these games,” Easton said.

As he stood on the podium with his teammates and coaches for the fourth and final time, a memory etched itself into his mind, one he remembers, in detail, years later. He looked out, confetti flooding the air, the entire field covered in green and yellow. Once again, he was stunned, but this time it felt accomplished, full-circle, surreal.

“That feeling never got old,” Easton said. “I’ll vividly remember standing on that platform, looking out and seeing the field, and just being so thankful for the people who got me to Fargo. The way the community embraced me and my family was unbelievable. That moment is pretty special.”

*****

Easton knew what NDSU meant to him long before he graduated or played his last game as a Bison. He was the recipient of the Ken ’64 and Jan ’64 Promersberger Athletic Scholarship, and while attending a scholarship luncheon in the fall of his senior year, he began thinking about what it would feel like to be in the shoes of the donors who support students at NDSU.

Earlier this year, in January 2022, Easton established a scholarship endowment to give back to current and future football student-athletes who will carry on the Bison tradition.

“Looking back on my five years there and just knowing how much I loved my time, and just how meaningful a scholarship is for all of us that were able to receive them — the things it takes off our family’s plate or our own plates financially, but also just the freedom to go after what you want to go after,” Easton said. “Football obviously was a passion of mine. To be able to chase that and have almost no restrictions — I could get an education, study what I wanted to study, grow that way, learn about myself, and develop these crazy awesome relationships.

“I just knew, sitting there at that luncheon, reflecting, that if I could be on the other side of this and give someone else a similar experience, I think that would just be so powerful,” Easton said. “I’m pretty grateful to be at a point now where I’m able to stay connected to the program, and that’s really important to me — being connected to the community of Fargo, the community of North Dakota State, staying connected with the awesome people there. I want to continue to be a part of it.”

*****

Reconciling with his expectations for himself and his NFL career is an ongoing process, but one that has helped Easton learn to identify himself as more than an athlete, despite it being his number one priority for so many years.

“When I was younger, I defined myself as an athlete, and my performance dictated how I felt about myself. The lessons I’ve learned and people I’ve met through football have molded me,” Easton said, “but my identity is through Jesus. My faith shapes who I am, and I try to display that in the way I play and how I treat people. Whether I throw eight touchdowns or I don’t ever play again, it has nothing to do with who I am as a person.”

Inspired by the scholarship support he received, Easton established a scholarship endowment for NDSU football student-athletes in January 2022.
Inspired by the scholarship support he received, Easton established a scholarship endowment for NDSU football student-athletes in January 2022.

He’s been enjoying his time in southern California, joking that he put in the time to earn the warm weather. His younger brother, Aaron, who works with a sports agency, moved in with him last year. You might think they’d both be sick of talking sports by the time they get home at the end of the day, but Easton says they like to watch games together and compare perspectives.

Perhaps the way Easton views a football game is a lot like the way he views life. He doesn’t let one mistake, or success, determine his outlook — he sees it all as a learning opportunity.

“Quarterback is one of the few positions where you’re able to see everything rather than just what’s going on in your little area or your assignment on a play. You’re not just watching and thinking, good pass, bad pass, or good point, bad point. Really, you’re looking at all of it.”

When he looks at the big picture of his time in the NFL, and all the little details he’s poured over to get there, Easton makes sure he doesn’t take it for granted. He’s dreamt about being a pro-athlete since he was a little kid, and now he gets to be one.

“There’s that balance of feeling like that and also realizing I’m not in the position I want to be in right now There’s more I can give; I can get better,” Easton said. “It’s finding a way to kick that next door down.”

If you would like to contribute to the Easton Stick Football Endowment or receive information on how to fund your own endowment, contact Jack Maughan, NDSU senior associate athletic director, at 701.231.8984; Stefanie Kelly, director of athletic development, Twin Cities, at 612.270.6171; or Parker Kruckenberg, assistant director of athletics – development, at 701.388.6154.

North Dakota taxpayers are eligible for a 40% state tax credit for contributions to an existing endowment or upon establishing an endowment.