AUBURN, Ala. – Joe Bagwell was never a football player, but he sure was a football lifer.
The student assistant coach who passed away suddenly Saturday before Auburn took the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium in its 12-10 loss to No. 2 LSU was popular among his peers in the Auburn football program, as well as back home in Huntsville, Ala.
Bagwell, 23, attended Auburn and was promoted to student assistant after previously helping with the training staff.
“He was around all the time, and just a great young man,” Auburn head coach Gene Chizik said. “He kind of worked with everybody. Did a lot of clerical work for us, and (he was) just very helpful. Loved Auburn. A really hard worker and did whatever we needed him to do.
Asked whether the Tigers – many of whom are among Bagwell’s 1,000-plus Facebook friends – knew about Bagwell’s untimely passing during Saturday’s game, Chizik said, “not that I’m aware of.”
Because he couldn’t suit up for the Panthers before graduating from Huntsville High in 2008, the small-statured Bagwell found other ways during four years to help former Huntsville football coach Kevin Wieseman’s club: statistics, film work, web site maintenance, you name it.
“He was probably more well-known for his famous spiral notebook on Monday mornings,” said Wieseman, now the principal at Lee High School in Huntsville, recalling a fond memory of his former student assistant.
“I think he went to Xbox and pulled them off. He just had this playbook of what we should be doing. It always went over really well after losses. He put so much thought in to it. He wanted to help the team in so many ways. He cared so much about his teammates and wanted everyone to be successful.”
Although Bagwell’s cause of death hasn’t yet been released per FERPA regulations, it is believed it was related to his heart condition from an early age, per Wieseman. An Auburn spokesman said he was aware of Bagwell’s health situation.
“He took a lot of pride in telling our guys they had to wear a helmet, wear your pads,” Wieseman said. “Even though he was limited physically, he was interested in making things better for you. Those people just warm up to you.”
Bagwell’s mother, Jennifer Tarkington, owns a photography studio in Owens Cross Roads, Ala., which was founded by Joe’s grandparents.
“He genuinely had that personality where he cared about you,” Wieseman said. “He was awful excited about working with the Auburn program. He was an Auburn man, that’s for sure.”
Plan to play Wallace all along: Freshman Jonathan Wallace isn’t playing this year for lack of options – starting quarterback Kiehl Frazier could run the same packages if needed.
No, Wallace earned the right to have Auburn burn his redshirt and invite the Central-Phenix City product onto the field for six snaps Saturday, including three rushes for 15 yards.
“Before the season even started, we felt like we would get to this point,” Chizik said. “We weren’t exactly sure when it would happen and at what point, but that’s always been a work in progress in terms of planning.”
Chizik added junior Clint Moseley will remain Moseley’s backup on the depth chart. Moseley, nursing a shoulder injury, has not appeared in a game yet this season.
Step up: Chizik needs to see more game-changing plays in order to fix a pass offense averaging 144.8 yards per game – nearly 40 yards worse than any other SEC aerial unit.
“Players have to make plays in big games at the right moments. I mean, it’s just that simple,” Chizik said. “There are opportunities out there for us that we leave out on the field where we’re not making plays. I can’t say it’s chemistry or youth. When it’s time for guys to step up to the plate to make plays that make differences in the games, we’ve got to do a more consistent job of that.”
Confidence boost: After limiting No. 2 LSU to 12 points in defeat, there’s a newfound swagger to at least one Auburn defender.
“Even though we didn’t come out with a win, we know now what we’re capable of,” junior safety Demetruce McNeal said. “If that’s the No. 2 team in the country, what are we then, no matter what our record is?”