Odds. They’re something meant to be overcome. Yet, they so infrequently are. Shepherd quarterback Tyson Bagent has more odds to battle than most in the 2023 NFL Draft class. No player has been drafted from the Rams since 1960. No D2 quarterback has been drafted since 1999. From Martinsburg to Mobile, from Shepherd to the Senior Bowl, Bagent has defied the odds, shocked the world, and shocked himself, to the point of making history.
Tyson Bagent Continues To Shock Himself Ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft
“This has been such a crazy ride,” Bagent reflects on his journey to the 2023 NFL Draft while sitting down with Pro Football Network. “All the dudes that I love that play in the NFL, they didn’t throw as many touchdowns as me. Nobody in the world, in the history of football, threw as many touchdowns as I did. And when I put it in that perspective, it’s another one of those things where I’ve shocked myself again.”
Shock and awe might have negative connotations, but there really isn’t a better way to describe the journey that Shepherd quarterback Bagent has embarked upon. An under-recruited high school quarterback out of Martinsburg, West Virginia, he heads to Mobile for the 2023 Senior Bowl with the potential to secure his place in history.
With a selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, he’ll end years of draft drought for Shepherd University and for quarterbacks from the D2 level. He does so after setting the NCAA college football record for career touchdown passes, racking up 159 scores while playing just four full years of football for the Rams.
His success might come as a shock to the outside world. It often comes as a shock to Bagent himself. However, his whole football journey has been a fine balancing act. The young QB has an internal dialogue that teeters between success and shock, finely balancing expectation with a drive and understanding of how to make his dream a reality.
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“It was just an inspiring and motivating factor going forward of what can happen if you just put your head down and work.”
As he prepares to shock the world in the 2023 NFL Draft, securing the record for the most passing touchdowns in NCAA history wasn’t the first time in this journey that Bagent had shocked himself.
In 2018, the Martinsburg High School quarterback was named the West Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year after being described as an “exceptional football player that comes around once in a while.”
“That was the first big thing that my name was associated with,” Bagent reflects on the award. “Being able to hang a big banner in the gymnasium of my school. Being able to have people look at me as the Gatorade Player of the Year was another thing where I had shocked myself and motivated and inspired myself with how far I’d come, and what I believed I could do in the future.”
Bagent Developed a Thirst for Football on a Diet of Early Success
That Bagent then, and now, can still shock himself with his accomplishments might seem surprising. It’s perhaps even more so when you consider the success that he’s had throughout his football journey.
Bagent will be the most statistically successful quarterback on show at the Senior Bowl. That drive to be the very best comes from the very origins of his story, from a boy who developed his thirst for football on a diet of early success.
Travis Bagent was a Shepherd University graduate who played baseball for the Rams. He’s also one of the greatest arm wrestlers of all time. In this story of shock and success, however, he’s a father and a football coach to Tyson. He’s the man who helped shape a love for the game that could ultimately provide a stable financial future for the entire Bagent family.
“My Dad was my youth league football coach from the age of six, all the way up until 12 years old,” Bagent explains where his love of the game comes from. “Luckily enough, we had a really good team that played for a lot of championships and were very successful. I think any time you can play for a successful organization, in any fashion, you’ll begin to latch on to whatever that thing is.”
It was Travis that wanted Tyson to play quarterback, much to the ire of some of the other parents. Many saw a head coach favoring his son at the most important position in all of sports. Some years later, that decision has been rewarded as Bagent heads to the 2023 NFL Draft with a litany of program and NCAA records and with the potential to be the first D2 quarterback selected since 1999.
The football journey hasn’t all been plain sailing. During middle school, Bagent suffered what he describes as “some really rough years, football-wise” as he transitioned through middle school. Those years nearly saw him take a different path entirely, falling in love with basketball despite being — at that point — a smaller kid. Securing the starting QB job as a sophomore at Martinsburg rekindled the fire for football.
It was less a rekindling, however, and more a firework-esque explosion with a rocket-like trajectory. After an 8-3 season as a sophomore, Bagent led the prestigious high school to two state championships, throwing over 7,800 yards, while accounting for 112 touchdowns. Within this rich cacophony of success and shock, sits something else that becomes apparent with the Shepherd QB.
“That was the NFL for me at that time. Being able to win the job and have success at Martinsburg was like the NFL for me. Every day I was going into practice so extremely excited for the position I was in. It was so exciting. Every day I was trying to get better. I didn’t take for granted the position that the coaching staff put me in.
“Being able to make a jump from my sophomore year to junior year, and a really big jump to my senior year, seeing how good I good get with the work I put in, really inspired and motivated me.”
There’s a genuine excitement and contentment within Bagent, wherever he is, whatever level he is at. Yes, there’s now a quest and drive to make it to the NFL. But, he epitomizes the phrase of “where you are, that’s where you’re at.”
‘Living My Dream’ at Shepherd University
Having described Martinsburg as “the NFL for me,” Bagent explains that his college experience at Shepherd was like “living my dream again,” and that there was “no place I’d rather be, right now.”
Like the step up that he’ll take from college to the NFL, the jump from high school to Shepherd was significant. Nevertheless, Bagent earned the starting job as a true freshman, throwing for over 500 yards in his debut in 2018. It would be a sign of things to come.
“You’ve got grown men trying to make this dream come a reality, just like you are,” Bagent said when discussing his college football debut. “Being able to think about that, made me super locked in. I had no clue that you could even throw for that many yards! It was cool, unexpected in a certain sense. But it was a very cool moment in my life.”
Over the next five years, Bagent would rip apart the Shepherd record books. He leaves the Rams having thrown for 17,034 yards and 159 passing touchdowns. Pick a program record that you imagine a quarterback to hold, and the 2023 NFL Draft prospect now holds it.
Bagent’s biography on the team website runs like a laundry list of records, honors, and accolades, including being named the 2021 Harlon Hill Award winner — the MVP of Division II football.
Achieving success while consistently shocking yourself ultimately breeds confidence in your own ability. Bagent talks about how he believes he has the physical tools to match any quarterback prospect that he’ll take to the field within Mobile. When the spotlight shines brightest on him at the 2023 Senior Bowl, he won’t wilt, he won’t fade.
There’s a steadfast desire to make the most of this opportunity like he has done so many times before. However, it hasn’t always been this way.
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Bagent has had his doubts. He’s fought his demons. Between 2020 and 2021, as the global pandemic ravaged CFB schedules even at the highest level but particularly at the lower levels, the Shepherd QB played just one half of meaningful football, leaving him with doubts over his ability.
“Practicing against the same defense over and over again for a full year, you can only run so many things. The defense is starting to shut us down. I’m starting to question if I’ll be able to have as good of a season as I’ve been having.
“Am I getting worse? In that one half, there was so much expectation, and when it doesn’t go your way, I had a really sour taste in my mouth. I thought I might be getting worse. I’m starting to forget how good I am and what I’m capable of. That offseason, I worked so hard just out of fear of being terrible.”
The following season, Bagent threw for 5,000 yards and 53 touchdowns, winning the Harlon Hill Trophy, knocking the sour taste right out of his mouth and expelling the fear that he’d felt during the offseason. Quickly, he learned, that success has another by-product. Attention.
“I was hanging out with my family, and I start to get illegal phone calls from pretty significant schools,” Bagent begins to tell the story of his dalliance with the transfer portal.
“I think everybody was expecting me to enter the portal when there wasn’t anything in me that thought that for a second. Me and my family listened to the calls, and I started to think crazy, like, ‘what if Clemson, Ohio State, Oklahoma, these teams might hit me up?’
“Everyone needs a QB, and I felt like I’d put myself in a position where they’d take a chance on me. Ended up putting my name in the portal. It was a very uncomfortable two weeks, just because of the things that they tell you and the things that they throw at you.”
From Shepherd to the Senior Bowl
A combination of academic, family circumstances — Bagent’s grandfather was ill, and the young QB was afraid he wouldn’t see him graduate if he changed schools –, and his “overwhelming love for the Shepherd team and community” made his return to the Rams for his final college football season a “no-brainer.”
The result was another stellar season with over 40 passing touchdowns that earned a Senior Bowl invite and a shot to be the first D2 quarterback drafted since 1999.
“The whole thing was that I had to put myself in a position to be successful, taking advantage of every play so I can continue to get these dudes’ attention,” Bagent said of his Senior Bowl invite.
“I can continue to find a way to get my foot in the door so that they let me be on a stage like that, so I can answer any questions people have about my level of competition. Solidifying that invite was the biggest thing for me going forward. Now, I’m going to be on the same field as those dudes. Where I’m from won’t matter.”
Growing up in an era dominated by the Manning brothers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, it’s easy to look at the 6’3″, 210-pound Shepherd quarterback and envisage him as a pure pocket passer. That assumption is even easier when you look at the gaudy passing statistics compared to low-level scrambling and rushing TD-scoring numbers.
Yet, Bagent draws influence from two quarterbacks — one at the end of an illustrious career and the other ascending into greatness — who have found a way to hang tough in the pocket and sling it downfield while having the ability to create out of structure and conjure up the sort of magic that leaves NFL evaluators and fans drooling.
“My senior high school year and throughout my college career, I’ve been able to extend plays with my feet, hit dudes on the move, getting out of the pocket and extending plays kind of like that Aaron Rodgers, Joe Burrow-type play. They can definitely sit there in the pocket and analyze the field, but when needs be they can make a move, get out the pocket, and hit dudes in space and allow the team to be so successful.”
Martinsburg High School was Bagent’s NFL. Shepherd University was his NFL. The Senior Bowl is his NFL. Next up? The NFL.
Years of hard work and success have led Bagent to this moment. He’s shocked himself at every turn. What comes next, however, won’t be a shock for the young Shepherd quarterback. This is what he’s planned for all along.
“Getting drafted and making it to the NFL is what I want to do. As an adult human being out of college, I’ve got to make money, and the way that I would love to do that is by playing football. I’ve put all my eggs in this basket. I don’t have a backup plan…yet. All my eggs are in this basket, this is how I want to do it. This is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
The ‘Why’ Is as Important as the ‘How’ for Bagent
His plan is set. His focus is firm. Bagent is on the verge of history and the NFL. The journey is something akin to a fairytale and will command attention throughout the entire 2023 NFL Draft cycle, starting with his appearance in Mobile.
The “why” behind Bagent’s story of success and shock, however, is as important and appealing as the “how” or the outcome.
“Part of the reason I’m working so hard is that I know money is hard to come by. Where I come from, not a lot of people have a lot of money.”
Bagent is a football player, an extremely talented one. But, he’s more than that. He isn’t solely focused on the end goal for himself. He sets the tone for a community and acts as a role model for his family.
On being named the West Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year in 2018, attention was turned — not by him — to his work in the local community, namely as a volunteer youth football coach. As Bagent talks, you can tell it means a lot to him to give back and ultimately become an inspiration for the community that raised him.
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“It means a lot to me,” Bagent begins, “but I don’t think it can ever mean enough. The effect and amount of inspiration that you can provide to the younger people coming up in your community. Especially in a community like Martinsburg that is extremely flawed in some of its ways. I can say that even though I love it so much.
“With having younger siblings, wanting to play that role where you can be inspiring and give them hope. You don’t have to be confined by the walls of Martinsburg. It means a lot to me.”
Football is a game of passion. Football is a game of pride. As Bagent takes the next step in making football his way of life, it’s pride that drives him. It’s not the pride of college football records and the associated media recognition. It’s not even a pride in his own accomplishments, his ability to repeatedly shock himself and those around him. It’s making those around him proud that will ultimately be the true measure of success.
“I love football, and I love everything it’s been able to bless me with — the position I’m in right now. But, win, lose, or draw, I’m usually ok however things pan out. Being able to make them proud with this national recognition and records, seeing how the younger people in my family view me, it’s a great feeling. Even more than getting recognition from people in the football world, I’ve always craved recognition within my family. That’s the biggest thing I’ve been able to take away from all the success I’ve had.”
That next measure of success, that next opportunity to make the Bagent family proud, will come down the end of a telephone during the 2023 NFL Draft. The Shepherd QB who can complete a Rubik’s cube and walk on his hands — “they better put me in the Guinness World Records,” he jokes when I ask if he can do both at the same time — is on the verge of shocking himself, and the world, once again.