2021 was quite a year for the Shepherd University football team. In case you missed the excitement at the end of the season, the Rams pushed through the post-season with back-to-back upset victories to make it to the semi-final round of the Division II national championship. After the season, the American Football Coaches Poll ranked the team at number 5, with the number one rank for offense in Division II.
As the Rams look to repeat last year’s success, the entire team will be working hard in 2022. Fans will see two players in particular at the middle of the action — Tyson Bagent at quarterback and right in front of him, Adam Stilley at center. Bagent, who won the Harlon Hill award for the best Division II player in the nation in 2021, attracts a lot of attention, particularly from the opposing defensive linemen. Stilley’s position calls for a lower profile — and a lot of concentrated effort pushing back on those defensive linemen.
Bagent and Stilley clearly work well together on the field — not surprisingly, since they both played together in the same positions at Martinsburg High School. It’s not uncommon for Shepherdstown to recruit teammates, given Coach Ernie McCook’s focus on local recruiting — of the 40 new players signed in February 2022, there are 3 pairs of teammates from high schools in the metro region. What makes Bagent and Stilley stand out is they first played together over 15 years ago and have roughly 11 seasons of playing time together as an offensive pair.
Bagent and Stilley started their football careers in the Jefferson County Youth League. Both started playing at age 6, but Stilley is a year older and had 1 year of playing time under his belt for the Razorbacks when Bagent joined the team. The team was sponsored by Mike and John Thomas of Jefferson Asphalt, both of whom also coached. The Razorbacks won several county championships over the next several years, and took the Tri-County trophy in their fourth year of playing together. Looking back at his time coaching, John Thomas remarked that Adam quickly fell into being a center and that Tyson was a natural quarterback — by his final youth league season the team was passing as often as it was running, which Thomas noted is very unusual for that level of play.
(Left) Tyson Bagent, Shepherd University Rams, courtesy photo. (Middle) Tyson Bagent (#9) and Adam Stilley (#72) were teammates on the Razorback team in the Jefferson County Youth League. (Above & right) On the field for the Shepherd Rams, Adam Stilley is ready to snap the ball to Tyson Bagent, courtesy photo.
After playing apart during middle school, the pair joined forces again at Martinsburg High School, where the team won the West Virginia AAA State Championship in 2016, setting multiple school records by the end of the season. Stilley graduated in 2017 and left for WVU, and Bagent led the Martinsburg team to a repeat championship run in the 2017 season. The then-coach of WVU overlooked the obvious talent in his backyard and Bagent landed at Shepherd University. In 2020, Stilley decided to rejoin his former teammate and the results were visible in bright lights on the scoreboard every weekend during the season.
The success on the field has brought a lot of attention to the Shepherd football program. But it’s the character of these two players that gets respect too, from teammates, coaches, and fans alike. “I see two young student athletes who are committed to their craft,” said Lynn Carr, one of the organizers of the Shepherd Gridiron Club, a group of alumni focused on supporting the football program. “Their work ethic is second to none and they make the best of their talents and natural abilities, doing everything they can to make their team better.”
Carr noted that it’s also a “testament to the coaches and Shepherd University leadership that the team is able to compete at the national level. The funding for this program is far below most other Division II schools and this team knows how to do more with less.” The disparity was eye-opening to many of the fans who traveled to cheer on the team during the 2021 post-season. Still, the players, coaches, and the entire community are looking forward to a 2022 season that is even more successful.
For information on supporting the Shepherd University football program, visit SUAthleticClub.org (> menu option to give to a specific sport). The team is organizing a fundraising event for scholarships at the Martinsburg Roundhouse on April 15 featuring current and former players in arm-wrestling and tug-of-war contests. Contact Lori Stilley at LStilley85@gmail.com for event & donation details.By Staff Contributor