A 5-11, 160-pound sophomore has taken charge of the Mustangs' offense this year.
In his first year on varsity, Grant Warkenthien has consistently been in the top five for passing yards in the Eastern Dakota Conference. To the untrained eye, it looks like the Mustangs are led by a seasoned upperclassman.
Warkenthien is one of only three sophomores in the 16-team North Dakota Class 3A football division who leads a team offense, and one of only two who are at starting quarterback. Fargo North’s Daniel Boutain is the only other sophomore starting QB in the state, as a Grand Forks Central sophomore splits time at the position.
Warkenthien, 16, played junior varsity as a freshman, and was pulled up at the end of the 2018 season to dress varsity. The Mustangs graduated their senior quarterback Parker Sanders last year, and the spot opened up.
Hearing he nabbed the starting QB spot was a bit of a relief for Warkenthien.
“I knew I’d had a chance after last season; we were graduating Parker. I put in a lot of work over the off season — lifting and then just getting reps throwing to our receivers and stuff like that,” Warkenthien said. “It was exciting, I was really pumped. I’m glad it’s went well so far.”
With zero varsity reps heading into this season, Warkenthien has proved he belongs. He capped his first varsity season, clinching the EDC title and is leading the Mustangs to their fifth straight playoff appearance.
“He has done an outstanding job this year no matter what grade he is in,” Sheyenne head coach Jeremy Newton said. “He has a lot of poise for a sophomore and the other players believe in him.”
Warkenthien and the Mustangs (8-1, 6-1 EDC) have had an almost perfect season, posting just one loss and earning the best record in the EDC.
Due to his size, some opponents have underestimated Warkenthien.
“Going into games, you kind of get some turns and guys on the other team that feel like they're definitely bigger than you and can dominate you,” Warkenthien said. “And then sometimes at the end of the games I get handshakes and ‘Good job 16.’ I kind of feel like they gain a little bit of respect, which is obviously what I'm shooting for. But I never try to get in their face. I always respect everybody.”
Ahead of Sheyenne’s first game this year against Bismarck High School, Warkenthien was a little nervous, he said. But over the course of the eight-week regular season, he’s adapted to the varsity atmosphere and its level of competition.
And his coach is pleased with how he’s performed his sophomore season. Newton said Warkenthien is very efficient with his passing and running reads.
The biggest adjustment for Warkenthien though, is the day after games.
“Saturdays are tough. In terms of being beat up and sore, it’s a lot different,” Warkenthien said. “Also, you gotta put stuff behind you because things go wrong sometimes. So that’s a big thing.”
Sheyenne’s lone loss was to Fargo Shanley in a game in which Warkenthien was unable to play. He was ejected from a game the week before against West Fargo High School. Warkenthien was at the bottom of a pile in the rivalry game, and his leg started to hurt. He tried to get the guy off of him, which is when the referee said he made a fist, and kicked him out.
“I didn’t want to hurt my reputation, but obviously if you knew me I would never hit anybody just cause I’m mad or because I’m stooping down to their level,” Warkenthien said.
Warkenthien completed 14 of 18 passes for 170 yards and two scores in the West Fargo game.
Sitting out the next game and watching his team face Shanley from the sidelines was tough, he said. But the loss ended up not being such a bad thing.
"It picked us up and made us realize we can’t take anybody lightly and we have to keep working hard,” Warkenthien said. “Obviously it worked out at the end of the season that we came out on top for the EDC at least. It wasn’t the worst of all scenarios, but obviously wish I would’ve been playing that game.”
Looking to this fall, Warkenthien knew being conference champs was a possibility. The Mustangs have a great group of seniors, he said.
“I mean, it's pretty awesome obviously to get this far. We have more stuff to do, but that's our first goal was to win EDC,” he said. “But it's also not just me out there, there's another whole 60 guys that come to practice and bring it every day and wouldn't be able to do it without them.”
Warkenthien has always followed Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. The former North Dakota State standout is someone he looks up to on and off the field, both because Wentz plays the position as him, but also for everything he does outside of the sport.
“I see a lot of things like, he’s close to God and faith in that way. That’s something I try to follow," he said.
“And also just being humble. Because I think that goes a long way instead of being cocky,” Warkenthien said. “You can be a great athlete, but when you're cocky it just kind of makes you look bad. And if you're humble, it makes you look better, I think.”
Warkenthien wears an AO1 bracelet, Wentz's foundation, each game.
In the playoffs, Warkenthien is hoping the Mustangs go far. Sheyenne lost to Bismarck Century in the semifinals last year. He said his team has brought good intensity to the last few games, which is something they need to carry over into the postseason.
Postseason kicks off for Sheyenne on Friday, Nov, 1, when the Mustangs host No. 4 West seed Minot (5-4) at 7 p.m. in the first round of playoffs. The Mustangs posted a 28-14 win over the Magicians earlier this fall.
“We've already played Minot this year, so that's a little helpful,” he said. “But at the same time, you just gotta keep bringing it. Everybody’s got to give a look at practice. Even though it’s cold, just go 100%. I mean, these seniors, it’s their last three games hopefully, if we go that far. Not to jinx it.”