There’s a projected NFL starting quarterback this Sunday from West Virginia.
Yes, yes, Geno Smith will start for the Seattle Seahawks against the Arizona Cardinals.
But there’s another that not only played in the Mountain State – as Smith did at WVU – but went to high school in Almost Heaven.
His name is Tyson Bagent. And if you haven’t heard of him, well, he’s a heck of a story.
He was a 2017 first-team all-state player for the Martinsburg Bulldogs. He played for Division II Shepherd University – so well that he was named the 2021 Hardman Award winner, symbolic of West Virginia’s top amateur.
After college, Bagent was an undrafted free agent pickup for the Chicago Bears and impressed during the preseason, working up to second team. The Bears liked Bagent so much they cut P.J. Walker, who just started in Deshaun Watson’s place for the Cleveland Browns.
Now it appears to be Bagent’s turn. First-string Bears QB Justin Fields dislocated his right thumb last week and appears set to miss this Sunday’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders.
It’s quite a tale.
“His work habits, his functional intelligence on the football field, his acumen in the classroom being able to operate is very high,” Bears coach Matt Eberflus said Monday of Bagent. “He’s able to chunk a bunch of information together and simplify in his mind to understand concepts. I think his release is really quick. I like that. I like how he sees the field. He’s very patient, very poised in there and it’s a good opportunity for Tyson.”
Here’s the headline on Rick Telander’s Chicago Sun-Times article:
“Bears fans happy to see backup Tyson Bagent should be aware of his uphill climb,” with the subhead of “People want to see more of Bagent. He’s not starter Justin Fields, and that might be his greatest qualification to lead the Bears.”
I watched Bagent’s press conference after he relieved Fields in the Bears’ 19-13 loss to Minnesota last week. Bagent was 10-of-14 passing for 83 yards with an interception and a strip sack.
He was impressive, calm and confident, both on the field and in the post-game press conference. He was asked about playing (and scoring his first touchdown on a sneak) in a regular season game rather than one in the preseason.
“It’s different,” Bagent said. “They don’t pressure as much in the preseason because they want to see guys play fast and do their specific jobs. But football is football. The field is the same size. Eleven on 11. You’re either going to pass or run the ball. I thought it was similar but different with the pressures they were showing.”
Did he have butterflies?
“Excited,” he responded. “Playing football is my job and I enjoy playing football, so I was excited about getting out there. Obviously butterflies, playing in front of so many people with the stakes so high in the NFL. But I felt really prepared. The coaches do a good job of always preparing the quarterbacks week in and week out, just because it’s one play away. So, I felt good, felt prepared.”
Understand that Bagent doesn’t get a ton of pre-game practice repetitions, especially with the first-team offense.
“A handful whenever Justin has a long play, or he needs to communicate about something that happened on the last play,” Bagent said. “Then they’ll throw me in there, but most of the time it’s Justin’s show and we let him get as prepared as he possibly can for the next game.”
Bagent said he appreciated how the rest of the first-team offense rallied around him when he entered the Vikings game. But exuding confidence is on him.
“It comes from kind of not being OK until I have the game plan down, putting pressure on myself to getting everything down and understanding what’s going on in the game and what my operation needs to be,” he said. “After that it’s all about playing football and playing fast.”
And about — probably — getting his first start this week?
“I’m obviously very confident in myself,” he said. “Nothing changes for me. From Day 1 I’ve been preparing as if I was going to play the whole game. That’s how I approach the game. I like to know what’s going on at all times. Nothing is really going to change. Back to the drawing board and get ready for Vegas this week.”
A nice thing is how he expressed appreciation for those who’ve helped on the journey. He said his father Travis – a 19-time world arm-wrestling champion, by the way – a couple of friends and his godparents were at the Vikings game.
“Extremely grateful for the life I’ve been blessed with,” he said. “Not a lot of people get to do what I get to do win or lose. I’m super thankful for my family, for all my past relationships that helped me get to this moment. Now I’d like to get back to the drawing board and correct things for next week.”
I’m sure many West Virginians will be watching and rooting.
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.