The questions arrived almost as soon as the new quarterback did: How did you like Florida? What’s Urban Meyer like? What about Tim Tebow?
Transfer Bryan Waggener barely had a chance to put his bags down last year before his new Northern Colorado teammates began pestering him with questions about his time playing for one of the nation’s college football meccas.
“I got that every day when I first got here,” said Waggener, who spent the 2007 season as a backup to Heisman winner Tebow before transferring to UNC last year in search of more playing time. “Sitting down, every guy I talked to wanted to hear about it.”
The questions since have slowed, but the intrigue surrounding the Bears’ 6-foot-3, 240-pound senior quarterback remains.
In a four-year span, Waggener has been at the pinnacle of college football and toiled in the junior-college ranks (he spent two seasons at Citrus Community College in California), known the luxury of the big-time college football lifestyle and the anonymity of the small-school grind.
Now stationed in comfortable Greeley, Colo., however, he seems to have found a suitable setting in which to play out his college career.
“I feel like it’s kind of a happy medium,” Waggener said during a phone interview Tuesday. “When you get to a level like Florida, every guy thinks he should start and he should play, and there’s usually not a real good team camaraderie there. And junior college is kind of the other way, it’s the opposite.
“Here ... it’s good,” he added. “All the guys on the team get along well, and everyone’s out here having fun and trying to compete every day.”
Now, if the Bears could just win some games ...
Entering tonight’s season-opener against host Kansas University, Northern Colorado will attempt to bounce back from a recent rough patch that has included just three victories in the past three seasons combined under coach Scott Downing.
The team’s chances this year seem significantly better with Waggener under center. As a junior last season, the Glendora, Calif., native threw for 2,546 yards — the sixth-highest total in Bears history — and 14 touchdowns, though he also tossed 15 interceptions as Northern Colorado slid to a 1-10 finish.
This year, however, he hopes to get some help from a pair of newcomers who have taken equally unusual paths to Greeley.
Andre Harris played at Idaho and detoured to both West Los Angeles and El Camino community colleges for two seasons and now finds himself as the starting running back for the Bears, while receiver Darin McDonald will be competing in his first organized football game in four years after spending three years as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies organization and last season as a red-shirt with the Wyoming football program.
Both landed in Greeley under unique circumstances, and both figure to play prominent roles in today’s game.
“There’s a bunch of people that have had some winding roads,” said McDonald, who grew up in Denver and has two brothers playing minor-league baseball. “It’s kind of a bonding thing (for us).”
While today’s game does not appear to be an especially good opportunity for Northern Colorado to start the season off victoriously — the Bears are currently engulfed in a 16-game road losing streak, and the Jayhawks return 17 starters from last year’s 8-5 team — a respectable showing against a BCS conference opponent could go a long way in setting the tone for a season players are hoping goes better than those in recent years.
“We’ve got a great game plan,” said Waggener. “We’re going to try to do everything we can: run the ball, get a quick game going and try to take some big shots downfield.
“We’ll try to make it interesting.”