— Martinsburg High School’s Tyson Bagent is even more special off the field.
Two consecutive state high school football titles. Twenty-eight wins and zero losses in two years. Winner of the 2017/18 West Virginia Gatorade State Football Player of the Year, the House Award, the 2017 All-USA West Virginia High School Football State Offensive Player of the Year (first team), and a third-place finish in the running for the Kennedy Award—excruciatingly close to the triple crown of West Virginia high school sports.
A GPA that hovers between 3.7 and 4.1. Career stats as a three-year starting varsity quarterback: 87 passing touchdowns, 7,013 passing yards, a 62.56 completion percentage, and 13 rushing touchdowns. For everything else, just Google Tyson Bagent—Martinsburg High School’s phenom quarterback. And hopefully, you got the chance to watch him. He’ll graduate in May.
For sure, Bagent is the special type of player that comes around maybe once every generation. A coach’s dream. A fan’s dream. An offense’s dream. Some communities wait for this type of quarterback forever, and only ever wait.
Because of his accomplishments, his youth, the era in which he lives—Bagent, the person, could be all over the place. He could be a real disappointment off the field. His young life could be perforated with dumb mistakes and arrogant undertakings. But it isn’t. Not by a long shot.
And if you’ve had the pleasure of seeing him play, you get the sense that this kid is special in more ways than one. There’s a measure to his movements that suggests a larger purpose than just statistics, awards, and championships. Obviously, anyone “this good” is a freakishly driven, killer-assassin-style athlete, but there’s a fluidity to Bagent on the field that speaks to something deeper. Essentially, there’s more to the story.
Shortly after he and his Bulldog teammates won the 2017/18 West Virginia AAA state football championship, I had the chance to sit down with Bagent at his home in Martinsburg, where he lives with his parents and three younger siblings—his internationally recognized world-champion arm-wrestling father in the other room, occasionally chiming in, as he’s been known to do.
One thing sticks out more than anything else: this 17-year-old is extremely grounded. I told him up front we were going to talk about Tyson Bagent, the person, and he was all for it. Obviously, we had to get there by way of football, so that’s where we started.
“I started playing football when I was six—I hated it,” he laughed. “My dad would take me to practice and I just hated it. But then, the second year came, and I started to understand it more. I was a little bigger and stronger than everyone, and it started to click.”
A quarterback at a young age, Bagent changed his first play at the line of scrimmage around 11 years old, which went for a touchdown (in a season that saw him throw 31). “Around that point, probably sixth grade, it started to change for me—people started to look at me as a quarterback.”
By eighth grade, he was already privately pondering whether or not football might pay for college. And in 2014, he arrived as a freshman at Martinsburg—a program coming off its fourth state title in a row.
“I remember my first weight-lifting session; I see these two chiseled beasts walk into the weight room—two seniors—I thought, man, I don’t have a chance,” he admitted. “Later that day, one of them came back and just did a standing back flip. It was insane.”
Martinsburg High (MHS) was a football factory by the time Bagent arrived, but timing being what it is, both he and the program would soon realize a proverbial match made in heaven.
“As a freshman, I remember being a little chubby and not very fast, and there were a bunch of guys ahead of me,” Bagent remembered. “But I always knew I was going to play quarterback at Martinsburg; there was never a doubt in my mind. By my sophomore year, most of the guys ahead of me had become receivers.”
Martinsburg head coach Dave Walker took him aside after his freshman year and told Bagent that no one’s job was safe, so if he wanted to work hard and vie for that position, it was possible. Bagent rewarded him by taking the reins his sophomore year and running up a 38-3 record, to go with two state titles, the next three seasons.
Three years of steady growth and success—for everyone involved, including the coaches, the program, the system, and many other players not named Bagent—adding to a dynasty that, in the last eight years alone, has amassed a 102-7 record and six state championships.
As it stands, about a half-dozen schools are interested in Bagent at this point, Shepherd University among them. He credits Walker, the MHS staff, and his teammates, for allowing him to take part in a program that has undoubtedly prepared him for the sophisticated system(s) he’ll encounter at the next level.
“And I feel like I’ve left my mark at Martinsburg—by being a part of that system that grew and evolved while I was there, so that future players can benefit and achieve their fullest potential and success,” he emphasized.
I asked him what he particularly enjoyed about the last few years. “The different experiences you get to have and the different people you get to meet—your connections on and off the field,” he affirmed. “Being a part of a larger group of your peers, even the community—and then the relationships with coaches. They become like family. You can’t get that without sports. I think sports builds a specific type of character and experience you can’t replicate, and you’ll never forget it.”
But there’s also a very personal element to being a high-level athlete, and I asked Bagent how he balances the extremely social aspect of being a celebrated athlete with the private part that usually drives exceptional people to be their best. “I definitely think being an athlete helped to shape my mind—who I am. I’m humble because of sports. I enjoy different perks of being a successful athlete. But the balance helps me enjoy all aspects of life, and makes me appreciate people and life more.”
Having not truly considered what his life might have been without sports, Bagent has given some thought to what it might look like when competitive sports is over. “I just want to be the best version of myself that I can be—whether that’s being healthy and fit, and eating well, being kind, driven, hardworking—whatever I end up being. I want to be the best version of myself.”
To that end, he’s considering a range of options in college, from sports management/coaching to business to education.
He also sees himself continuing a way of life that might surprise folks. “I definitely love the outdoors, and I’m not that interested in technology or some of the things people might assume I’m into because of my age,” he said.
(An intriguing side note: Bagent recently shelved his iPhone for a flip-phone; he’s been wearing the same sweatshirt to school for months; and he doesn’t plan on cutting his hair for “the rest of his life”—in an effort to unplug from certain “wants vs. needs” that he says get in the way of productive living for many people his age.)
Surrounded by family (and whichever friends of whatever sibling also occupy the house) when he gets home, Bagent doesn’t have to look far to find himself in the people he cares about.
“I definitely get my confidence from my dad; I’d say that I get my humility from my mom,” he explained. “I also learn a lot from each of my siblings.”
The definition of cool older brother, Bagent understands the responsibility that comes with it. “I’m very involved in their lives and I take great care to make sure they’re living as good a life as they can. It helps me to be who I am.”
A large extended family is also a source of motivation for him. “All my family, from both sides—it’s a big family—they all support me fully. I just think that it adds to my determination to be the best I can be,” he said. “A lot of my cousins, especially the younger males, look up to me, I think, and I want to be a good role model and a source of inspiration to them to the best of my ability.
“I look at my little brother and he’s probably the only person I want to be better than me. As a brother with little sisters, I want them to stay sharp as they grow up—stay serious about school. Obviously, I strive to be a role model and an inspiration to them so they can see how I handled myself and then succeed in their own ways.”
An additional inspiration for Bagent throughout this, his senior year, has been MHS psychology teacher Derek Gallagher. “My dad was working at Shepherd, and Mr. Gallagher played on the basketball team—we were always at the games, just watching him play,” he said. “When I got to high school, I never really thought about sitting through one of his classes, but since the very first class up until now, it’s been one of the most eye-opening experiences. Every class, I learn something I know I’ll use for the rest of my life.”
Bagent’s friends have certainly taken notice. “I try to get them to take his class; he wears the same clothes all year. They laugh and say stuff like ‘Man, did Gallagher get you to do that?’ But his influence is definitely way beyond what I thought a teacher could be. He’s like a life coach. So much of what he says sticks with me—and it’s certainly influenced my thoughts about potentially pursuing teaching as a profession someday.”
Along with Gallagher’s influence, Bagent has also found productive traction utilizing a strategy conveyed to him by his father in recent years. “He’s always told me to go as hard as I can at something in order to find success. I do it in football, and I do it in the classroom. I do think that a lot of people in my generation give up too easily and give in to learned helplessness. It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you just go after it hard.”
As a result, Bagent admits to loving high school. “I have a lot of friends and pride myself on being very friendly—sports related or classmates,” he assured. “I have a great school experience; everyone tells me they can’t wait to get out. I want to stay. I love it.”
With the next phase of his life not far off, Bagent anticipates plenty of new experiences, but he doesn’t see himself changing too much.
“I always want to make the people who care about me proud,” he indicated. “I want to be a good friend, a good brother, a good son. Maybe I’ll have longer hair, probably the same sweatshirt. I’ll be a college athlete. A student. The next four years will be intense, I’m sure, but that’s the part I enjoy. The balance. The pressure. But I truly believe you can handle anything in the world if you’re a good person. If you’re true to yourself. If you’re authentic.
“I’m even excited about what’s after college. I’m excited to make a living, and find out how that’s going to happen—and to be able to do inspiring things, either with my job or outside of my job. I want to take adventures. I want to own a dog. I want to live a good life. Be a good person. Do good things.”
By Mike Chalmers