The Choice: Trey Lance

The Choice: Trey Lance's parents exemplify son's NFL dreams

  • Programming note: Listen to "The Choice: Trey Lance" on 49ers Talk every Thursday for show segments leading up to the full TV premiere on Tuesday, Sept. 7, on NBC Sports Bay Area. In Part 3, Lance's parents push him to reach his full potential in a small Minnesota town.

Carlton Lance chased his NFL dream as a defensive back from the Canadian Football League to 49ers training camp in Rocklin to the London Monarchs of the World League of American Football.

When his playing career came to an end, he returned to Marshall, Minn., where he attended Southwest Minnesota State and met Angie.

In 1988, Carlton moved to the remote part of the upper Midwest from Fort Myers, Fla., to run track and play college NAIA football.

He returned to settle down with Angie.

Part 1 of "The Choice”: 49ers' Lance interest was secret worth keeping
Part 2 of "The Choice": Lance’s flawless freshman season built his NDSU legend

“While Carl left and traveled the world to play football, I was teaching,” Angie Lance said. “I was a teacher for 10 years. We kept in touch during that time and dated during most of that time.

“And, then, when he stopped playing football, he came back to this part of the country.”

This part of the country is located 150 miles southwest of Minneapolis. Marshall is surrounded by fields of corn and livestock. Schwan’s Company, one of the nation’s largest frozen-food companies, is headquartered in this town of 13,000.

It's also where Carlton and Angie raised two sons, Trey and Bryce, who are following their own football aspirations.

Instilling small-town values

The 49ers selected Trey, the team’s quarterback of the future, with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Bryce is beginning his freshman season as a wide receiver at North Dakota State, where his brother was the starting quarterback for one memorable season.

“We were 30 when Trey was born,” Angie said, “so we probably hadn't put a lot of thought into what type of parents we wanted to be.”

Angie said their focus was on raising their children to be faithful, healthy, happy and kind.

“As long as everything we do is geared toward those four things, I think we’re going to be in a really good place,” she said.

Their personalities and parenting styles play well off each other. Angie supplies unconditional support. Carlton, who was inducted into the SMSU Athletics Hall of Honor, is brutally honest in his assessment of any situation. He says what needs to be said, and not much more.

“My mom was the type that was going to tell us that she loves us and we played great even if we didn’t,” Trey said. “My dad was realistic with us.”

The car rides home from youth games were all about the bottom line for Carlton. His biggest takeaways from watching his sons play sports centered on effort, the elimination of mental mistakes and never backing down from a challenge.

“The boys would get in the car,” Angie said, “and Carl would ask, ‘How do you think you did?’ And, first of all, I would say, ‘Oh, you did great! I thought you did great! It was fun. Did you have fun? Great.’

“And then Carl would say, ‘How do you think you did?’ And the boys would say, ‘I thought I did good.’ And Carl would wait, and he'd say, ‘Well, do you want to know what I think?’ ”

Carlton dealt from a position of tough love. He believes and preaches that no accomplishment comes without hard work.

It was something Trey heard from an early age.

“I coached him in middle school and volunteer-coached him in high school,” Carlton said. “So once he got to that age, that's when I started talking to him about competing and understanding what competing was."

Mom’s life-changing talk

After one particularly uninspired workout with his dad at the YMCA, Trey, who was entering the ninth grade, was more than a little discouraged when he got home and went to his room.

His mother entered and offered some straight talk of her own. She sat on the floor and provided a soft yet firm touch to help chart the path for her son’s future in what's remembered as a seminal moment along his athletic journey.

“The two of us had a talk,” Angie recalled. “I said, ’Is that really something that you were thinking, that you would like to do is play Division I sports?' ”

Trey answered, yes, he wanted to be an athlete at the top level of college. Angie pressed him.

“And, so, Trey, I just have to ask you: Is that a wish? Because wishes aren't going to get you anywhere,” Angie said. “Is that a dream? Because dreams are fun. You know, they really are. Dreams are a lot of fun.

“Or is it a goal? Because if it's a goal, Trey, there's going to definitely be a price to pay. There's going to be sacrifices to make, and he did flip a switch. He put his mind to it, and he was all-in.”

Dad's fateful decision

Carlton coached Trey in middle-school football. Trey was the team’s top running back, and his dad also called on him to serve as the backup quarterback to Trey’s best friend, Jake Hess.

Once Trey started throwing the ball, his natural ability to play quarterback was unmistakable.

When he entered Marshall High School, he asked to play quarterback. His career as a running back was over.

“After we saw him throw the football and we knew his work habits, we kept him at quarterback,” said Terry Bahlmann, Marshall’s football coach.

After excelling on the JV squad, Trey was called upon to play with the varsity late in his sophomore season. The senior quarterback had sustained an injury, so Trey entered the game.

He struggled in a season-ending loss.

“After the game, he was on the bench and a little depressed, and I put my arm around him, not knowing what’s going to happen in the future,” Bahlmann said. “I said, ‘Trey, your best days are coming. It’s going to be great.’ ”

One clue for how great became apparent with how the young quarterback dealt with adversity.

“He was right back to work the next day,” Bahlmann said. “Where a lot of kids will take a couple weeks off, he’s right back getting better.”

The drive to be great

Hess, once Trey’s athletic equal, recognized that his buddy was separating himself through his maniacal work habits, focus and drive.

“Sophomore year after he got that first start, the next season, he was just grinding,” Hess said. “After some summer games, I’d be dead and just laying around, wanting to take a break, and he would go in the weight room for three hours.

“I’m like, ‘You do you, man. You have way more of a drive.’ ”

Trey went on to start his final two seasons of prep football and excelled as a point guard on the basketball team. He dominated as a dual-threat quarterback for the school of 800 students.

While many bigger universities projected Lance as a defensive player, North Dakota State envisioned him as its next quarterback capable of an NFL career.

The athletic skills were easy to detect. So, too, was Lance's commitment to invest the hours of work to get better and better.

Perfect contradiction

Carlton taught Trey the nuances of the game and the importance of being prepared through film study.

“His dad was a motivator in his life, and Trey's passion for football was there as long as I can remember,” Hess said.

The sometimes-contradictory touches of his parents complemented each other and, ultimately, kept their eldest son on the path to realize his lofty athletic goal.

There were times, of course, when Carlton thought Angie was too protective of their boys. Conversely, when Angie thought Carlton was being too harsh, she would let him know in a private conversation.

Ultimately, their individual parenting styles were the right blend to drive their eldest son through hard work and discipline while keeping it fun and avoiding burnout along the way.

“I think we balanced each other out,” Angie said. “We're not perfect. We worked really hard. We had lots of conversations about what was best, and how to best support them.”

Coming next Thursday: The final installment -- Lance stays true to himself despite his social stance upsetting some fans

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