Brandon Wegher’s Twitter page features a large photo of him playing for Iowa. The bio lists the Hawkeyes as a stop on his college football journey.
A lot of people would burry a painful period that ended with the unshakable label of "what might have been." Wegher embraces it. It’s a big part of who he is today.
Few people would have predicted Wegher to succeed after his exit from Iowa in 2009 began a stretch of off-field issues. He left college for a year and worked the night shift at a mining equipment company in Vermillion, South Dakota.
Packed with natural gifts, Wegher, 24, has risen back up the sport’s landscape. He’s on the radar to be selected in the NFL Draft, which kicks off Thursday night and concludes Saturday.
The journey has been bumpy and rife with setbacks. They included academic issues and arrests for public intoxication, eluding police and domestic assault. It started with a cloudy exit from Iowa.
Wegher chose the Hawkeyes as a four-star recruit, the 14th-ranked all-purpose running back in the ’09 class according to Rivals.com. He turned down scholarship offers from Auburn, Missouri, Nebraska, Penn State and Wisconsin, among others.
Wegher lived up to the hype during his first fall on campus. He rushed for 641 yards and a school freshman record eight touchdowns. He capped off the season with 113 yards and a score in Iowa’s 24-14 victory against Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
Expectations were high for the Hawkeyes heading into ’10. They returned a lot of talent, including Wegher and Adam Robinson, who rushed for 834 yards and five touchdowns as a redshirt freshman in ’09.
Those lofty heights were not reached by the team or Wegher. Iowa won eight games and upset Missouri in the Insight Bowl but failed to build on the Orange Bowl season. Wegher left the team during August camp for personal reasons and never returned.
Wegher transferred to Oklahoma that January as a walk-on. He was out of there by March and wound up at Iowa Western Community College. All the movement hurt his academics and he was ineligible to compete at the school in Council Bluffs. He walked away from school and football.
On his late night trips to the mining company, the itch to play football crept back into Wegher. He found a home at Morningside College, an NAIA program in Sioux City.
"I had a half-hour drive to and from (work) everyday. At 3 o’clock in the morning, football was the only thing on my mind. It got to the point where I had to give it one more shot," he said.
Wegher had a relationship with the Morningside coaches and they gave him a chance. He went from playing in front of 70,000 fans at Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium to about 3,500.
"I really didn’t think about that much. All I was concerned about was I was getting my opportunity to live my dream of playing football. It didn’t bother me that there wasn’t 70-some thousand people in the stands. I was just happy to be playing football again after being away for three years," he said.
Wegher destroyed the competition. In ’14, he rushed for 2,610 yards (8.0 per carry) and 39 touchdowns. He caught 29 passes for 429 and four scores. He earned first-team NAIA All-American honors after his 260 points during the season broke the all-time record at that level.
Following the season, Wegher trained for the draft at Florida’s IMG Academy, where his brother, Jack Wegher, will be a senior running back this fall. He asked Iowa if he could participate in its March Pro Day for scouts but was told the school’s policy is to only include players who have completed eligibility with the program. He requested at spot at Iowa State’s event and the Cyclones obliged.
Wegher reported running the 40-yard dash in 4.48 seconds, leaping 37 inches on the vertical jump and pushing 23 reps on the bench press. He measured in at 5-foot-11 and weighed 213 pounds. He was pleased with his overall performance.
Pre-draft speculation puts Wegher in the range of late-round pick or free agent. He’s answering a lot of questions about his past.
"I’ve had to tell my story to all 32 teams. I had to explain my story, where I’ve come from and how I’ve grown from it. A lot of the teams are pretty accepting of it. I’ve been forward and honest with them about everything," he said.
Wegher still won’t reveal publicly the reasons he left Iowa, saying it’s personal and complicated. His choice to leave the team was abrupt and caught fans, teammates and coaches off guard.
"It was absolutely hard. It was the biggest decision of my life. But at that time of my life, I was kind of messed up mentally. I wasn’t in the right state of mind. Things weren’t going my way and I had to make a change in my life," he said.
"I don’t regret my decision at all. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. It forced me to grow up and become a man. I gained a lot of wisdom out of it. The journey that I’ve gone through, I wouldn’t change that for anything in the world. It forced me to be who I am today."
Wegher said that respecting himself and others became the biggest lesson he took from his trials.
"It’s about accountability," he said.
Wegher is engaged to Megan Glisar. The couple conceived a son, now four, while student-athletes at Iowa.
Glisar became the only person in history to win four state high jump titles while competing for Sergeant Bluff-Luton High. She left the Hawkeyes for Morningside, where she was the NAIA national champion in ’12. Now a senior at South Dakota, she ranked among the country’s top high jumpers after being a first-team All-American a year ago.
"She’s awesome. We’re looking at getting married this summer or next. Our lives are a little crazy right now. She’s competing for a national championship. She’s also an academic all-American and has been accepted to grad school," Wegher said.
And, they’re raising a child together.
"It’s awesome. It’s such a blessing. I love being a father. He’s at a stage in his life where he looks at me like a superhero. Every decision I make, every day I wake up, it’s a reflection of he and my fiancé. I definitely have a lot to work for," Wegher said.
While it ended poorly, Wegher cherishes his time at Iowa.
"When I left Iowa, I thought I was done with football forever. But that 2009 season and the Orange Bowl, that was something I’ll never forget. That’s one of my greatest memories of all time. I mean, how could you forget something like that? I was part of a great team, great guys, great coaches. All I can remember about that season was the fun that I had and the memories I made," he said.
Wegher has stayed in touch with former Hawkeye teammates Christian Ballard and James Vandenberg. Ballard attended a Morningside game to watch his friend.
While Wegher is focused on the future, there’s a good chance he’ll remember his past this week whether he hears his name called in the draft or signs as a free agent. It’s part of who he is and he’s OK with that.
"I’ve been a lot of places and I’ve been through a lot. I try to look forward but it’s hard not to look back and see the highs and lows and now be in the situation I’m in. It really makes me appreciate the journey I’ve been on. I thank God everyday for still allowing me to play football, the game I love," he said.