Stretched out on a hospital bed, riddled by a severe case of pneumonia, Bobby Wagner didn't think he would be here, not on the most important day of his not-yet-professional football career.
But that's exactly where he ended up, 240 pounds of diesel linebacker weakened with a high fever and the chills. Everything Wagner tried to eat he threw back up. He regurgitated so hard that he popped blood vessels in his eyes. He had the shakes and couldn't even hold a pencil. His frustration level was more than high as his health declined.
The week of Feb. 22 was supposed to be special for Wagner, the former Utah State star and NFL Draft hopeful. Instead, it turned into a nightmare, as Wagner missed the Draft Combine, the showcase for potential draftees to test their physical and mental abilities before all 32 NFL franchises.
"It was horrible, just a bad situation with bad timing," Wagner said. "They let me out the day I was supposed to report. But I just couldn't go. I just wasn't feeling right. I had no choice but to go home and chill and get myself better."
Next weekend, during the draft, Wagner will almost certainly be the first local player selected. He could go as high as the late first round, although that's a stretch at this point. Many mock drafts have him going to the Philadelphia Eagles in the second round. He's one of the highest-rated linebacker prospects in the draft. He will almost certainly be drafted higher than former Utah State cornerback Curtis Marsh, who went to the Eagles last year in the third round.
Wagner's stock rose because he attacked his latest setback like he attacked all of the other challenges in his life. Wagner simply dusted himself off, went to Arizona to work out at Athletic Performance Institution and prepared himself for his pro day in Logan.
Once he got there, he shined. Wagner ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash. He cleared 39.5 inches in the vertical leap and 11 feet in the broad jump. He showed his strength by lifting 225 pounds 24 times, and ran the shuttle in 4.24 seconds.
Immediately following that performance, Wagner became a hot name. He had already proved himself in an all-star setting, garnering MVP honors in the Senior Bowl shortly following the season. And Wagner knew he had silenced some of the critics who questioned whether his collegiate performance was merely the product of playing in a small conference.
"You guys were surprised, but I wasn't," Wagner said. "I knew what I was capable of. I knew that I could run a good 40 time. The big change was that I was focused on football, and that I was able to live football. I worked out, and I ate better than I had in my entire life."
For Wagner, this was no different than the other challenges that he's faced throughout life and football. When his mother, Phenia, passed away, he could've left Utah State, but didn't. When his daughter Quinncey was born and the demands of fatherhood became enormous, Wagner attacked it and never shied away.
Wagner spent six weeks at API, dedicating the majority of his time to getting in shape for his pro day. The results were tangible, as Wagner arrived in Logan leaner and stronger than he had been during the 2011 season.
"He missed some time with us," said Dennis Logan, a Performance Specialist who worked with Wagner. "His illness took time away from him. We looked at what we wanted him to achieve, and that was a good 40 time, a good vertical, and good strength numbers. We thought that all of his goals were achievable, and Bobby has been one of the hardest workers that we've had."
When Wagner and Robert Turbin, projected to be a fourth-round pick, are selected, they will be the first pair of Aggies taken in the same draft in years. With the outside chance that running back Michael Smith will be selected, USU could have three players taken.
"It would mean a lot to the community, the university and Cache Valley," Utah State head coach Gary Andersen said. "Bobby bounced back and really showed well at his pro day. He has represented this program well and he will always be an Aggie."
• Has spoken to all 32 NFL teams
• Has visited the Seahawks, the 49ers, the Miami Dolphins and the Arizona Cardinals
• Has been projected to go as high as 24th to the Pittsburgh Steelers
• Is projected, mostly, to be drafted in the second round