“I think he’d be going backward.”
That was the response Bobby Wagner once gave when he was asked what would happen if teammate Robert Turbin was coming through a hole in the line and Wagner jumped in to meet him head on, one on one, just the two of them.
The linebacker laughed when he said it.
When Turbin was told of his friend’s response, the running back had a different opinion. It was something like, “I don’t know. I think he’d end up on his back.”
He laughed, too.
There’s no way to know, with any certainty, which Aggie was right and which was wrong, but as Seattle Seahawks, in some scrimmage, sometime, somewhere, they may yet give us an answer. It doesn’t really matter because, turns out, they’re both going forward. The two pillars of a rebuilt Utah State football program will now continue their careers as teammates in Seattle, Wagner drafted in the second round and Turbin in the fourth.
And how can this not be a feel-good story?
Making the whole thing even better is that their Aggie teammate, Michael Smith, was also drafted, taken in the seventh round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Compare that with Utah, which had only one player, Tony Bergstrom, drafted and BYU, which had no one selected, and it speaks highly of Gary Andersen’s effort to give new breath to a long-dormant football program.
“It means a lot,” Turbin said. “It shows that Utah State is rising, as we should and as we planned. There will be more good players to come out in years to come.”
It speaks well of Turbin, Wagner and Smith that they always cared about Utah State football, beyond just their own prowess. Turbin said one of the major reasons he went to Logan, beyond the fact that USU was one of the only schools that wanted him as a running back, was because he saw himself lifting the whole thing to a better place.
“It was the kind of team I wanted to be on — to help them turn the page, to help them become a winning team,” he once told me.
And that’s exactly what happened.
After his last game with the Aggies in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Wagner said he took great satisfaction in what had been accomplished at Utah State, the new foundation of winning, the new positive attitude, that had been generated there: “We turned the program around. I’m proud to be a part of that.”
Smith, who was the MVP of the bowl, having run for 157 yards and two touchdowns, also glanced away from himself and back at the players and program: “Hopefully, they’ll go on winning even more in the future. Hopefully, they’ll have better running backs here next season.”
These were guys who openly broke down and bawled like newborns when they found out Utah State had been invited to its first bowl in years.
During a September interview with Turbin, the running back recalled all the challenges he had faced in his life: growing up poor, having an absentee mother, a troubled brother, a paralyzed sister who couldn’t speak, for whom he often cared at the family’s home, and another sister who was struck with multiple sclerosis before dying at the age of 21.
He absorbed all of that, watching the example of his father, who kept working to support his family and kept hope alive, come what may, in his son.
“Over the course of my life, I’ve learned to be humble and thankful for the things I have, to appreciate what I’ve got while I’ve got it,” Turbin said. “And to remember my family and be grateful.”
After Wagner was drafted, he called it “a blessing and an honor,” and he thanked everybody at Utah State.
The Aggies should take pride in having three players picked in the NFL Draft, but they should also be proud of the caliber of people they are sending into a world that desperately needs them.
GORDON MONSON hosts the “Gordon Monson Show” weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.