Back when he was starting out his football career at Colony High School in Ontario, California, and then when he was establishing himself as an NFL prospect at Utah State, Bobby Wagner began to see the value in sticking with routines.
If he ate a certain meal and played well, or if he felt good on gameday after a particular workout leading up to that game, he tried to replicate that routine.
It was only after he joined the Seahawks and was surrounded by other pros that he began to really understand what he had instinctually been chasing early in his football career.
"I probably didn't have the words to describe what I was doing; I didn't understand what I was doing or describe what I was doing until I got into the league," Wagner said. "In high school and college, if I ate a certain meal or did a certain workout, and I had a good game, I would just try to do it over again and try to recreate that moment all of the tine. As I got older, I understood that that was my routine I was creating to get me in the best either physical or mental mindset to play the game at a high level. I would probably say I was able to put it in words when I got to the league."
And ever since he joined the league, consistency has been one of Wagner's defining traits as he has established himself as a Hall of Fame-caliber talent with the Seahawks. Now in his 10th season, Wagner has missed more than two games in a season only once in his career, and he was so good in that 11-game 2014 season that he received an MVP vote and was a first-team All-Pro for the first time in his career. Wagner has been a Pro-Bowler in each of the past seven seasons, and a first-team All-Pro in six of the past seven, giving him the most first-team All-Pro selections in franchise history, and he has been named first-team All-Pro in each of the past five seasons.
And when the Seahawks face the Packers on Sunday, Wagner needs only seven tackles to reach 100 this season, which would give him 100 tackles in 10 straight seasons to open his career. This century, only London Fletcher has a longer streak of 100-tackle seasons, doing it 14 straight years from 2000-2013.
"It's such a statement of consistency to come back physically fit enough to accomplish that," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He's a marvelous athlete and he has a great work ethic. It takes everything to be connected to be able to pull off those kinds of numbers for so many years, year after year. He's off to tremendous start, this is early in the year to be that close to 100 tackles. He's doing great, he's feeling good, and it's a marvelous statement about consistency. You can see why he's heralded around here, why we love him so much, and he's been such a terrific leader."
As Carroll noted, leadership has been as much a part of Wagner's success story as has been his impressive statistical production. The one constant on Seattle's defense over the past 10 seasons, Wagner has gone from a key part of the famed "Legion of Boom" defenses that led the NFL in scoring defense for four straight seasons from 2012-2015—the only team do accomplish that in the Super Bowl era—to the steadying veteran presence on a defense that has undergone significant turnover in recent seasons, and that has, for the second straight season, had to turn things around after a slow start.
"He's been so rock solid, he's just been Wags," Carroll said. "B-Wags has continued to stand for the message, the expectations, and draw guys into it and then along with him. He has been a marvelous example of what leadership is all about. I can't even remember him any time where he wasn't in that position. He's a Hall of Fame player and he will be there as soon as they can get him in there. He has proven that."
While the idea of building success off of consistency might sound simple enough, there's a reason very few people, even those as talented as Wagner, can maintain such a high level of play for so long.
"People get bored with it," Wagner said. "Doing the same thing every day, or trying to be consistent, people get bored with it, so they stray from it… You say you're going to do it every day, then you have those one or two days where it's like, 'Maybe I'm going to take a couple reps off. Maybe I'm going to take today off, maybe my body needs this rest.' It's a constant battle with your inner self. A lot of people can't handle that battle. If you can sustain a level of consistency then, we have a lot of examples in this world, it works out really well for you."
And 10 years into one of the most decorated careers in franchise history, Wagner can avoid boredom and keep up that consistency because he still feels like he has room to grow.
"A lot of consistency is about growth, so I feel like the moment that I stop wanting to grow is when I walk away," Wagner. "I haven't felt like that, but there's still aspects of my game that I feel like I can get better at, there are still parts of my body I can get stronger, there are still things I can do. I haven't been bored because there's still so much growth that's still out there for myself."
Perhaps no one at the VMAC can appreciate what Wagner has done in his career more than defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. Not only has Norton coached Wagner for seven seasons, three as Seattle's linebackers coach early in Wagner's career, and the past four as Seattle's defensive coordinator, but he also knows what it is to play a long and mostly healthy NFL career, spending 13 seasons with the Cowboys and 49ers, starting all 16 games in each of his final 10 years in the league.
"He's just been consistent, he has great habits, he's really durable, and really dominant," Norton said. "It's a testament to the way he lives his life every day, the routine he sets, how hard he works, the way he loves this game, it is amazing to see. If you look at all of the great linebackers over time, I don't know if even the great ones have been able to get 100 tackles in ten years straight. That's pretty hard to do and it's a really, really special thing that he has been able to accomplish."
Norton was Seattle's linebackers coach when the Seahawks drafted Wagner in the second-round of the 2012 draft, and while teams are excited about every player they select in any given draft, he and others in the building felt particularly good about the team landing Wagner in the second round.
"I think we knew just in the whole process of scouting him in college, seeing his makeup, all the different ways he was able to make plays and the way he moved around and the way his mind works," Norton said. "I think that there was no question, as high as we picked him, we had a feeling that there was a chance—everybody has a chance—but he was able to put it all together really well. That's very rare what he's been able to do. I think that everybody, especially the scouting department, did a fantastic job of really pinpointing him as a guy who is special for us."
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