Pull up highlights from the 2010 Orange Bowl and watch Iowa running back Brandon Wegher run in for the game-sealing touchdown against Georgia Tech, then jump into the arms of a Hawkeyes teammate.
Wegher looked to be at the top of the football world at that moment. His 113-yard performance in the Orange Bowl capped the best rushing season by a freshman in Iowa history.
That was the last game Wegher player for his home-state team.
What followed was a three-year hiatus that included three school changes, multiple arrests and the birth of a child. But Wegher says fatherhood forced him to grow up.
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He and his fiancee, Megan Glisar, are raising their 4-year-old son in South Dakota, where Glisar is an All-American high jumper. Wegher returned to football two years ago at Morningside (Iowa) College, where last season he rushed for an NAIA-record 2,610 yards.
And after convincing the Carolina Panthers’ coaches and scouts his legal troubles were behind him, Wegher was one of 10 undrafted free agents to sign with the Panthers last week.
After the Panthers’ rookie minicamp last weekend, Wegher said he’s grateful for the opportunity.
“When I talked to the (Panthers) scouting staff at the Medal of Honor game, I told them I’ve been at the bottom and I don’t want to go back,” Wegher said. “That was one of the big things they reminded me of. Just come in here, be hungry and work for that job.”
A winding road
Wegher arrived at Iowa in 2009 after setting the state single-season rushing record with 3,238 yards, leading his Sioux City high school to a state championship. He rushed for a freshman-record 641 yards and eight touchdowns for the Hawkeyes, whose win over Georgia Tech completed an 11-win season.
But the following August Wegher was gone, leaving the program for what Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz called “personal reasons.”
Wegher was at Oklahoma briefly but left without ever playing a game. In the fall of 2011, he attended Iowa Western but was ineligible to play football.
While there, Wegher was arrested on misdemeanor charges of public intoxication and eluding a police officer. A public records check showed the eluding charge was dismissed.
Wegher was arrested again in 2012, charged with misdemeanor domestic assault after an altercation with his brother. According to the Sioux City Journal, police said Wegher allegedly pushed Cole Wegher, causing him to strike his head on a kitchen counter.
Cole Wegher did not sustain any serious injuries, police told the Sioux City newspaper.
Wegher was convicted of the assault charge and sentenced to six months’ probation, according to public records.
Wegher said he and his brother argued after Cole Wegher had moved in with him.
“I never laid a finger on him, really. I never hit him. I never kicked him. I never punched him,” Wegher said during an interview after the Panthers’ rookie camp. “I just kind of got in his face and let him know what was going on.”
Wegher said he and his brother have “patched things up,” but he’s not sure he can trust him anymore.
As for the earlier arrest and his exits from Iowa and Oklahoma, Wegher says he was immature.
“I did a lot of kid things there, the things kids would do,” he said. “I grew up. I have a son, a fiancee and those two people right there really forced me to grow up. I did that, got football back in my life and now things are good.”
Not much ‘crazy stuff’
Wegher said he was honest and direct about his past when he met with teams before the draft.
“There really isn’t much crazy stuff about me out there. It was just more telling the truth and just letting everybody know what was going on during that time at Iowa and then after that time,” he said. “I wouldn’t change what I did. I wouldn’t change my decisions because it forced me to be who I am today.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the team knew about Wegher’s off-the-field issues. But during the vetting process, the Panthers found that Wegher had avoided trouble the past couple of years while at Morningside.
“He had some early situations and along the line, he recognized and realized, ‘Hey, I’ve got to fly a little bit on the straight and narrow.’ He’s really kind of changed his life,” said Rivera, who appreciates Wegher’s candor in discussing his past.
“He’ll talk about it. He’s very direct and forward about his own maturation process. That was very refreshing to sit down and chit chat with him and just know I think he realizes this is a great opportunity for himself.”
Wegher credits a lot of his maturation to Glisar, who began her track career at Iowa before getting pregnant. After giving birth to Brody, Glisar transferred to Morningside, where she was the NAIA national champion in the high jump.
She eventually wound up at the University of South Dakota, and is one of the top high jumpers in the country. Wegher recently joined Glisar in Vermillion, S.D., where the school is located.
“We’re both into athletics. We’re both busy,” Wegher said. “We both help raise our son and we make it work.”
Wegher worked for his dad’s construction company in Sioux City – about 40 miles from Vermillion – to help support Glisar and Brody before the draft.
Wegher started training in April at South Dakota with strength coach Jevon Bowman, who told him: “First time you’re late, I’m done. I’ve got other things to deal with.”
Bowman says Wegher beat him to the weight room some mornings. Bowman was familiar with Wegher’s background but says he’s a changed man.
“He’s not that guy. People don’t understand,” Bowman said. “Yeah, he had a troubled past. But that’s a different Brandon Wegher. This Brandon Wegher is a guy that has drive, purpose, knows what he wants to do, and the NFL is one of those things and he’s not going to be told no.”
Wegher, 24, is one of six running backs on the Panthers’ roster. The list includes another rookie in fifth-round draft pick Cameron Artis-Payne, a tough, physical runner whose skill set is similar to Wegher’s, according to Rivera.
Wegher, 5-10 and 213 pounds, showed good burst during the rookie minicamp. He reportedly ran the 40 in 4.48 seconds at Iowa State’s pro day (after Iowa declined to let him participate in its pro day) and rushed for 94 yards on 14 carries at the Medal of Honor game in Charleston.
“I thought there was a chance that I could get drafted. But either way, I’m here,” Wegher said. “I’ve got big goals and being drafted, being undrafted, those aren’t really going to play a factor in those goals.”
Making the Panthers’ 53-man roster is the next step in the comeback for a player who readily conceded he’s received “second, third and fourth” chances.
“I mean, I must have done something right to get back here,” Wegher said.
Now he aims to stay here and reward the Panthers for their faith in him.
“For them, I’m going to lay down my football career, do every thing I can for this organization.”
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