SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. — Tyson Bagent began to fall in love with football as an eighth grader.
Two years later, as a sophomore quarterback at Martinsburg High School, the Bulldogs had a time tough keeping Bagent off the field despite having the state’s best team and an established senior signal caller in Carter Wilburn.
“Carter was a senior and a big part of our team,” said Britt Sherman, then an assistant at MHS and the Bulldogs’ head coach since six weeks ago. “That August, Carter watched Tyson throw the ball and would look at me and (head) coach (Dave) Walker like, ‘You realize you’re going to have to play him, right?’”
An injury to Wilburn that season left the Bulldogs’ coaching staff no choice but to play Bagent — and in the process, a star was born.
Although that 2015 season was the last time Martinsburg didn’t win the Class AAA championship, Bagent helped lead the Bulldogs to titles the next two years — and finished as perhaps the school’s most accomplished QB.
At 6-foot-3 and 200-plus pounds and with a strong arm and high football IQ, Bagent had the makings of a Division I prospect.
“Everybody from Martinsburg that came to watch me play would say I was the greatest thing ever and throw out some crazy schools they thought offers might come from,” Bagent recalls. “WVU never reached out, which stung for a little bit. I thought schools like Marshall and James Madison would recruit me, so I was surprised they didn’t.”
“I had Division I offers, but not ones I thought were of the most benefit to me or at as high of a level as I wanted,” Bagent said. “In high school, it was something that ate me up every day.”
Bagent opted to stay nearby and play at Shepherd — a consistent winning program in Division II.
In his first college game, Bagent set a school record with 518 passing yards in a losing effort at Notre Dame College.
Having started 21 of the Rams’ 22 games since, it’s tough to argue Bagent didn’t make the right call staying in the Eastern Panhandle.
Bagent completed better than 65 percent of his passes (253-of-387) and finished with 3,029 passing yards and 29 touchdowns as a freshman, helping Shepherd go 7-3 in its final year as a member of the Mountain East Conference. That wasn’t enough to get the Rams into the playoffs, but it was another winning season for a program that’s been above .500 ever year since 2009 and not had a losing season since 2003.
It also served notice that quarterback was anything but a concern for the Rams as they began membership in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.
“Martinsburg prepared me the best they could for as much as we throw the ball at Shepherd,” Bagent said. “The biggest thing I had to get used to was playing a three-and-a-half hour football game. My senior year at Martinsburg, I was out after halftime in 80 percent of my games.”
In 2019, Bagent played in 12 games, helping lead the team to a 10-3 record and eight straight wins. He upped his completion percentage to 71 (343-of-483), was second in D-II with 4,349 passing yards and tossed 36 touchdowns. Shepherd’s final victory of the season came in a first-round contest in the D-II Championships as Bagent threw for 389 yards and four scores — including one with 11 seconds left to send the Rams past Indiana (Pa.), 31-27.
“Part of the reason I chose Shepherd was knowing I’d be able to air it out and have fun doing it,” Bagent said.
As a sophomore, Bagent ranked first in D-II in passing yards (362.4) and completions per game (28.58).
“It means the world being able to do what I love in front of my family,” Bagent said. “It’s been an awesome experience and a lot of the reason I’ve been so successful. But I haven’t surprised myself. I knew how good I was before a lot of people thought I was really good.”
Bagent’s dedication to the sport has certainly aided his development.
“Tyson does everything he possibly can do to make himself better,” Sherman said. “He’s not a kid who’s going to do things to hurt his body. He’s serious about football, conditioning and nutrition.”
Bagent’s recent preparation for his junior season has been done during the uncertainty surrounding sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fortunately, the task of continuing to improve is made easier by the fact that Bagent’s dad, Travis Bagent, is a world-renowned arm wrestler and the owner of CrossFit 304.
“Luckily my dad has been involved with CrossFit since I’ve been young, so he’s been working me really hard since the virus came around,” Bagent said. “As far as throwing, I’ve been working with two close friends every day. I wish I got to be with the team, but as far as the work goes, I’ve been lucky enough not having to stop.”