Super Bowl: Wagner takes Turtle power from USU to Seahawks
By Kurt Kragthorpe
The Salt Lake TribuneFirst published Jan 28 2014 04:15PM
Newark, N.J. • Having watched Bobby Wagner play in front of him for two seasons, former Utah State linebacker Jake Doughty could have cited any of Wagner’s hundreds of tackles, his game-saving interception or a critical fumble recovery as the most memorable performance.
Instead, Doughty chose the inspirational words of a player who wasn’t inclined to lead until being thrust into that role as an Aggie senior in 2011.
That night in Hawaii, an angry Wagner channeled the personality of Raphael, his favorite character of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The immediate effect was USU’s rally from three touchdowns behind at halftime; the lasting impact was the turnaround of the Aggie program.
And the further result of Wagner’s passion came into play Tuesday at the Prudential Center, where a Turtles backpack adorned the linebacker occupying a podium during the Super Bowl XLVIII Media Day.
As second-year player, Wagner is a leader of the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense. He’s responsible for relaying the coaches’ scheme on every play, getting his teammates into position and directing traffic in the middle of the field. He seemingly was born to make tackles, which is strange to say about an athlete who played only flag football until his junior year at Colony High School in Ontario, Calif. Once he gave up his basketball dreams, "It took a lot of moments when I probably got embarrassed to miss tackles," he said.
He obviously figured it out, enough to be discovered by former USU coach Brent Guy’s staff and eventually become a second-round draft choice of the Seahawks. And his Aggie legacy, besides the tackling numbers that may never be touched, is highlighted by this record: USU is 25-8 since the comeback in Hawaii.
Doughty and others who followed Wagner have tried to live up to his standards. They remember how he demanded more from himself and his teammates when USU stood 2-5 in his senior season under ex-coach Gary Andersen and trailed Hawaii 28-7.
"That, to me, was Bobby’s defining moment," Doughty said.
Recalling that scene Tuesday, Wagner said the Aggies were ignoring what they’d told one another in a players-only meeting. "I felt like the coaches were panicking, so I basically told everybody to shut up and just do what we said we were going to do … and we did it."
The Aggies rallied for a 35-31 victory and proceeded to win the next four games. Wagner’s game-ending interception in double overtime at Idaho and his fourth-quarter fumble recovery against Nevada enabled them to become bowl-eligible for the first time in 14 years.
And it signified Wagner’s development as a leader, which has carried over into the NFL. "He’d be the first to tell you that really wasn’t his thing," said former USU teammate Robert Turbin, a Seahawks running back. "He didn’t really know how to go about it. He wasn’t vocal. That changed."
During Wagner’s time at USU, his mother died and he became a father. Wagner believes the two events were not coincidental. His daughter, Quinncey, is now 3 and lives with her mother in Logan, where Wagner regularly visits. He cites her as his biggest motivation — completing the cycle of his continuing impact on Aggie football. "He’s an inspiration," Doughty said.
Wagner missed two games this season with a sprained ankle, but still led the team with 120 tackles (including five sacks) in 14 games and was involved in 15 stops in the NFC championship game against San Francisco. The Seahawks love him, because of his feel for the game and his promise as an "ascending" player, according to defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
And Wagner is proud of what he and Turbin are doing to promote a formerly downtrodden program. Their examples show you can get there from Logan. "If you’re good," he said, "they’ll find you."