This time last year, we put Tyson Bagent on the cover in recognition of his inspiring achievements as Martinsburg High School’s starting quarterback, which had culminated in a second straight state title and undefeated season for the Bulldogs. In early 2018, most of the Panhandle public officially learned that Bagent would be sticking around, and bringing his talents, and hopefully an equal measure of success, to Shepherd University.

(He did just that, so we figured a second cover was in order.)

But early on, though they were certainly happy and/or relieved with his decision, many people wondered why Bagent chose Shepherd over what was clearly a collection of schools in hot pursuit.

“I chose Shepherd because I wanted to stay close to my family—having such young siblings, I didn’t want to basically go through four years of their lives without me being around a lot,” he confirmed. “And I knew I’d get a chance to throw the ball at Shepherd—which added to my decision, but the overall comfort factor played the biggest part.”

What most Shepherd fans didn’t realize, dating back to around 2015, was that Bagent was already leaning towards the Ram program. “I probably made my commitment in my head my sophomore year in high school,” he said. “They made an offer my junior year, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Unless someone like Alabama or Clemson was going to call, I pretty much knew I was going to Shepherd.”

And so it began this past summer, as Bagent arrived on campus for pre-season camp, and promptly looked terrible. “That first practice, I probably threw the ball as bad as I’ve ever thrown it in my life, so I didn’t exactly set the tone very well that first day,” he recalled with a laugh. “But I relaxed, and then began to separate myself from the other quarterbacks, and people began to rally around me. It helped my confidence then and throughout the season, knowing all the guys were behind me and believed in me.”

As almost everyone who follows Shepherd football knows, Bagent soon won the starting job as a freshman and pretty much picked up where he’d left off at Martinsburg—completing 36 passes for 518 yards and three touchdowns in an opening season loss against Mountain East Conference (MEC) rival Notre Dame on September 1.

As Bagent described it, that first official week of school and football was certainly intense. “Summer camp was a lot to handle, but once school started and we just continued those meetings and practices on top of having classes and homework every day, it was definitely a shock. I guess it took me out of my rhythm for a few days. And with that Notre Dame game—the opening drive—maybe the moment got to me a little. But after a few passes, I got into a rhythm. After it was over, I knew I’d thrown for a bunch of yards, but I had no idea it was over five hundred until one of my coaches told me on the way home.”

Bagent drops back against UVa-Wise in the final game of the 2018/19 season. ©Observer

Natural Leader

To call his first college game a statement performance, or even a sign of things to come, could be considered a formality of sorts for those who watched him grow up. But the results can’t be denied. “Once I found a flow, it became easier and easier every week,” Bagent explained—which is important to note when considering what that “flow” produced.

Over ten games this season, Bagent completed 253 passes for 3,029 yards and 29 touchdowns—and a quarterback rating of 149.13. And that 518-yard performance against Notre Dame in week one? A Shepherd record (along with the 36 completions). He also set a Shepherd and MEC record on September 29, against WV Wesleyan, with 7 touchdown passes. He also tied a school and conference record with 7 “touchdowns responsible for” against Glenville State on September 15.

As far as accolades? Yeah, there were a few of those, too. Three-time MEC Offensive Player of the Week. And nationally (NCAA Division II), Bagent ranked fifth in completions per game (25.3), sixth in overall passing touchdowns (29), eighth in total passing yards (3,029), eighth in passing yards per game (302.9), eighth in points responsible for per game (19.2), ninth in points responsible for overall (192), tenth in total offensive yards per game (303.5), and eleventh in overall completion percentage (.654).

It’s probably worth mentioning that he was also selected as the 2018/19 MEC All-Conference 1st Team quarterback, which pairs nicely with his nomination for the 2018 Harlon Hill Trophy as the Division II College Football Player of the Year (basically, the D-II Heisman).

Shepherd Sports Information Director Chip Ransom agreed that, even given his history, Bagent’s success as a freshman has been pretty remarkable. “He’s a first-year player under a first-year offensive coordinator and a first-year head coach,” he noted. “He is ranked in the top eleven in eight different NCAA II statistical categories. He has also established numerous school passing records. Tyson is mature beyond his age and is a natural leader—he gives Shepherd fans a lot to be excited about over the next three seasons.”

Chauncey Winbush, Shepherd Vice President of Athletics, and a former Ram football standout, echoed Ransom. “From the beginning of the recruiting process, I heard several positive characteristics about Tyson from a number of different people—which can set a tremendous amount of expectations on a young person,” he explained. “However, what I’ve noticed over Tyson’s first season is that he is obviously an incredibly talented football player, but what I’m even more eager to communicate is that he is an even better person off the field.”

As a former player, specifically a wide receiver, Winbush knew just what to look for when Bagent arrived at Shepherd. “I always look at the way a quarterback spins the ball and what type of touch they have on deep throws,” he indicated. “As everyone surely knows, Tyson can certainly spin the ball with the best quarterbacks in the country, but he also throws a very catchable deep ball.”

Winbush also emphasized that Bagent has risen to the occasion and surpassed expectations. “My excitement level is off the charts knowing that we have such an extremely talented young man as the leader of our football program for the next three seasons. I believe Tyson earned the respect of our entire team as a true freshman because of his work ethic as well as his cool demeanor when facing adversity.”

Looking ahead, as Shepherd moves to a new, likely more challenging, conference next year in Pennsylvania (the PSAC), Winbush’s optimism for Shepherd Football and Bagent doesn’t waiver. “I’m extremely encouraged by the great foundation of young talent returning next season that will be led by Tyson,” he affirmed. “And I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I felt how special he was going to be from day one.”

Bagent slips a defender and dumps off a pass early in the season. ©SU

Game Time

While he’s able to appreciate the results of his efforts, Bagent is very aware that impressive stats and highlight plays will only mean that teams are studying him even more before they get to him next season—a reality that materialized soon after Shepherd’s first few games this season.

“The first two weeks, we were just clicking so well, but seeing how the defenses, week to week, began adapting to us—obviously watching a ton of film—and then taking plays away, knowing exactly where they needed to be, was definitely an eye opener,” he admitted. “It forced us to put in new concepts and schemes every week, and was probably the most obvious challenge—definitely different from high school.”

Regardless, Bagent’s on-field demeanor never seemed to waiver—a characteristic that transferred seamlessly from high school. “I tend to get really excited before a game, but once the game begins, I’m in a flow, zoned out, so no matter what happens, I tend to stay on one level,” he said. “If something really good happens or something bad, I try to stay even. The worst thing for me or maybe other quarterbacks is to dwell on things, or get in a negative head space during the game—and let it mess up the next play. Like Coach Walker [Martinsburg] says, just play the next play.”

Fans might have also noticed Bagent’s obvious excitement during Shepherd touchdowns this season—a reaction that perhaps wasn’t as common his senior year in high school.

“Yeah, that’s probably because it was pretty easy to score much of the time at Martinsburg—but every game in college is a battle. No matter who you’re playing. So scoring a touchdown is a pretty big deal—you don’t get many chances.”

Although they may have, at times, looked as much, touchdowns certainly weren’t free this season for Bagent and his Shepherd teammates—a 10-game stretch that saw a very young squad lose three times (uncommon for Shepherd). But he embraced the adversity. “When things got harder, a lot of us grew closer,” he noted. “Because you have to communicate that much more, and think together that much more—watch more film together. You’re around these guys a lot; many of these guys will be my friends for a long time.”

To that end, and along with his new friends, Bagent will now move into his second semester of college—with priorities in order and goals clearly defined. “I’m really looking forward to the offseason, getting back into great shape, working out with the guys—focusing on school without the same time-management pressure as the season brings,” he said, “and then hitting the ground running in the summer. The PSAC looks to be a definite challenge, but I’m excited to see where we match up.”

He added, “I have a great relationship with my coaches, and seeing their confidence in me only motivates me more. But my inspiration comes from the people around me. It was amazing to suit up and play at Ram Stadium this year—a place I’ve been coming to my whole life—but it was even more rewarding to have my family there, and throughout the season. Those are the fans I’m truly looking for at game time.”

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