SALT LAKE CITY — Matt Wells will be in the final stages of the recruiting siege when Sunday’s Super Bowl between Seattle and New England occurs. But that doesn’t mean he’ll be out of the loop. He’ll be watching every play, for reasons beyond a natural love of football.
Namely, he gets a second chance to be the proud parent.
Seattle running back Robert Turbin — backup to Marshawn Lynch — and all-pro linebacker Bobby Wagner were Aggies when Wells was USU’s quarterbacks coach. Now Wells is the head coach, but has kept tabs on both players, from up close and afar.
Those guys are his kids.
If you ask him, they’re everything a player (or Boy Scout) should be: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous and ripped with muscle. Beyond that, they’re a recruiter’s dream. So when Wells visits a prospect’s home, he can casually drop the aforementioned names and say, sure, those are his people. They played under head coach Gary Andersen, but were embraced by Wells as an assistant.
“It’s hard to put a thumb on it, but the visibility they give us as a program is priceless,” Wells said, this week, as he prepared to start a recruiting day in Los Angeles. “When Bobby says Utah State University, you can’t put a price tag on that. They’re tremendous ambassadors, not just in football and recruiting but in the admissions process and in the perception.”
After back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, they’re a walking, talking (running, sacking) Big Blue advertisement.
“I try not to bug them, but I’ll shoot them a text or Twitter message here and there,” Wells said. “We talk in the off-season. We communicate.”
Boy, do they communicate.
When a player is on the Super Bowl stage, 100 million people are watching. That’s publicity you can’t buy. Oh, wait, yes you can for $4 million — the cost of a 30-second commercial.
That both Wagner and Turbin are in Arizona for the big game is no surprise to Wells. In his first day as quarterbacks’ coach, he got an office visit from Turbin, who dropped by to say he was planning on a career in the NFL.
And he didn’t mean working with the grounds crew.
“He said, ‘Coach, I’m gonna play in the NFL someday and I want you to hold me accountable. If you see me doing anything you don’t think is the right way to train, or lead, or prepare, or anything that’s not going to help me get to the NFL, I want you to tell me,’ ” Wells said.
Nothing ever came up — except Turbin’s market value.
That has held true in the NFL, where Turbin has thrived as Lynch’s backup, averaging 4.8 yards a carry over his three-year career.
Wells says Turbin was “a whole lot more vocal in the locker room and inside the (football) building” than Wagner, who is actually better known for being a good quote. Just last week, Wagner said teammate Kam Chancellor is so ferocious, he’s “an animal, beast, anything that eats mammals.”
You might say the media ate it up.
And while Wells knew Turbin had the talent and heart to play in the NFL, Wagner too was a strong probability. When pneumonia kept Wagner from the 2012 NFL combine, as well as the annual pro day at USU, Wells arranged for a personal audition.
It was a one-man casting call.
“His measurements were off the charts,” Wells said of the workout stats. “A ton of teams came out and he blew them out of the water. Pro day was huge for him.”
Now Wagner is the second-leading tackler on the NFL’s best defense.
Wells says it’s a natural recruiting boost to have two Seahawks playing in the Super Bowl. He won’t go so far as to say he’s got another Wagner on his USU team (“We’re talking about one of three or four best linebackers in the world”), but he’s not shying away from the association, either. The latest Aggie prospects include Nick Vigil and Kyler Fackrell who, according to Wells, “are the next two in line.”
Which should make Sunday’s game all the more pleasant for Wells. Football, he loves. But football with Aggies at the forefront?
There’s nothing like watching your kids grow up.
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