North Dakota State's Trey Lance, shunned by every major college recruiter as a small-town quarterback from Marshall, Minn., just three years ago, trumped Alabama quarterback Mac Jones and was selected third overall by the San Francisco 49ers in one of the more surprising stories in the history of the NFL draft.
"I've always told my kids, 'My goal for you is to outdo me,' " said Carlton Lance, father of Trey and Bryce, an all-state receiver heading to Trey's alma mater. "And they have."
Carlton is in the Southwest Minnesota State Hall of Fame as a sprinter and cornerback. He played one year in the CFL, another year in the World League and was with the 49ers briefly in 1994.
"I was only there through the first cuts," Carlton said. "That was the early days of free agency. I like to tell people the 49ers flew Deion Sanders in and flew me out."
The 49ers won't be treating Carlton's oldest son that way.
Last month, they traded the 12th overall pick, their first- and third-round picks next year and a first-round pick in 2023 to Miami to move up to No. 3 overall. Immediate speculation that Jones was the target quickly became an assumed fact.
"I was in Mexico the day we made the trade, and within hours there's at least two people out there speculating that we're taking Mac Jones," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. "We didn't feel that way from the beginning. It was crazy. You watch people [cite] sources and you say, 'All right, well, I know that's not true.' I'm glad it's over and we got our guy."
Shanahan and General Manager John Lynch kept the scouts, the coaching staff and Lance in the dark until shortly before Thursday's pick was announced. Jones ended up going 15th overall to the Patriots.
"We got to make a young man's dream," Lynch said of Lance, who wiped away tears of joy before planting a bearhug on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. "We got to know a person that impressed us as much on the field as off the field."
The 49ers looked beyond the fact the 20-year-old Lance had only 17 games against FCS competition.
They were enamored of Lance's physical attributes, his 4.5 speed, his character, leadership qualities and unquenchable thirst for watching film. And despite the low-level competition, Lance impressed the 49ers with the mental capacity to excel in an NDSU offense that requires the quarterback to set his protections, make adjustments and read the entire field.
The 49ers did reach out to the Packers when news broke that Aaron Rodgers wants out of Green Bay. When that went nowhere, the attention was refocused on Lance, the dual-threat prospect who played in a pro-style offense most similar to Shanahan's.
"Lance is in the best position of all the quarterbacks," said ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, the former NFL personnel executive. "He may be the biggest boom or bust here. … But you know what? I would bet my money on Trey Lance not busting. Why? This guy is wired right. He's going to be a superstar."
Lance is expected to sit for a year behind Jimmy Garoppolo.
"I'm excited to learn from [Garoppolo]," Lance said. "Everything he's done, he's a mentor for me. The 49ers are going to get everything I've got. I promise you that."
A 6-4, 224-pounder, Lance led the Bison to a 16-0 record and the FCS national championship as a redshirt freshman in 2019. He passed for 2,786 yards, 28 touchdowns and zero interceptions in 287 attempts, an NCAA record. He also ran for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns.
The Bison played just one game in 2020 before the FCS season was moved to the spring. Lance threw his only college interception in that game but also ran for 143 yards in a win over Central Arkansas.
Carlton laughed when asked about the assumption his son will have to sit for a year.
"Being Dad, that's kind of a loaded question," he said. "But I would say Trey checks a lot of boxes as far as what he can bring to the table and how fast he can pick things up.
"The physical skills are undeniable. He's very skilled, but he also knows his stuff."