WASHINGTON, D.C.—Outside of Howard University's Crampton Auditorium, a group of high school students from Seattle gathered as they prepared to tour one of the country's most prestigious universities.
And while they waited for the tour begin, those students received the surprise of a lifetime when Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner stepped out of a car and walked towards the group.
Some students stood in a state of silent shock, mouths literally agape. Others pulled out their phones for a pic, while others still peppered the future Hall of Famer with questions.
Soon after, those high school students found themselves touring Howard as planned, with Wagner now a part of the group.
In a collaborative effort with Microsoft, the Seahawks launched the first-ever HBCU tour this week in partnership with the WHOLE Mentoring Program, and The BE Project. Sixteen young Black men from a handful of Seattle Public Schools have been granted the opportunity to attend six Historically Black Colleges and Universities this week. On Thursday, Wagner flew to the nation's capital for the tour's fourth stop at Howard University.
The tour couldn’t have come at a better time for Wagner, who returned to the organization via free agency last month. Throughout the 2019 season, Wagner made national headlines with his initiative to shed more light on HBCUs by wearing school apparel for road games. Wagner was also named the team's nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, and chose the HBCU Foundation as his charity to receive the donation that comes with that nomination. Not only did the media take notice, but also his peers around the league from Black colleges.
Soon, he was being bombarded with apparel from a variety of Division I & II Black college athletic programs, from Florida A&M to Clark Atlanta to Howard.
The Utah State alum didn't attend an HBCU, but that hasn't prevented him from supporting - and using his brand to shine a light. When Wagner graduated from Colony High in Ontario, California - he only had one offer from Utah State University. There are no HBCU football programs on the West Coast, and if there was - Wagner never knew.
"I might've come to Alabama once, but I think the first time I came to the East Coast was when I was in the league."
While he can't go back 15 years, Wagner's put his best foot forward in helping Black colleges in any way he can. In 2021, Wagner partnered with the NFL and the HBCU Legacy Bowl - the premiere showcase for Black college prospects.
"It's an honor," Wagner said in a statement, "to support the Black College Football Hall of Fame and HBCU Legacy Bowl in their efforts to provide more opportunities for students attending historically Black colleges and universities."
The majority of the country's Black colleges have existed for more than a century, but the effort to reach potential students across the globe continues to grow. That's a big reason why Wagner flew from Seattle to Washington Wednesday evening, surprising the enamored group of Seattle adolescents as they arrived on Howard's campus.
While some sat awestruck in the presence of their favorite Seahawk, others fired off a range of questions as sophomore Music Education major and tour guide Joshua John-Louis led the group through the historic campus. Wagner took some time to discuss how the reach of HBCUs has expanded over time as he took in Howard's campus.
"I think it's technology," said Wagner. "When I was growing up, the only thing that I saw that was Washington DC was in movies. It's literally on the other side of the country. We might've gone to Florida for a trip, not really thinking of going to DC. I think it's just the more and more information that's out there that you learn. And you see the experiences. Even watching the movie Drumline, to see that type of experience, but then to see it in real life - that's probably a draw too."
Wagner joined the group as they explored the various schools of education to learn Bison history. It was Wagner's turn to be awestruck at the Chadwick Bozeman College of Fine Arts, as the group met esteemed actress and Dean of the school, Phylicia Rashad. The pair exchanged pleasantries and posed for pictures with the group, before Wagner joined the tour bus to head to the next stop - University of District of Columbia.
Junior Mechanical Engineering major & Senior Class President Brent Paris Thigpen led the tour, informing the group of the only public university in the city. The public historically Black land-grant university was established in 1851 as the Normal School for Colored Girls. In addition to several name changes, the school has made the transition from predominantly-Black institution to an HBCU.
From learning about the Cam-Star (Center for advanced manufacturing in space technology & applied research) partnership with NASA, to watching Firebirds basketball star Kenyon Stone throw down dunks in the basketball gym, the group spent ample time navigating the campus before boarding the bus back to Howard.
But this portion of the tour was about surprising and supporting the Bison football program, as Coach Larry Scott summoned the team to the sideline before spring practice to speak with the six-time first-team All-Pro. Wagner answered a wide-range of questions from the Bison players, ranging from biggest rival (49ers) to his toughest matchup at running back (Derrick Henry). The Bison are sponsored by Jordan Brand, as is Wagner, which prompted Bison director of football operations David Davis to present Wagner with a pair of custom Howard Jordan's.
Wagner stopped with the group at Howard's bookstore to purchase more apparel - possibly to wear this upcoming season. Before departing for his flight back to Seattle, Wagner signed autographs and discussed the next HBCU he'd like to visit.
"Probably would have to be Morehouse," said Wagner. "So much history."
The final leg of the week-long tour will conclude with Friday's visit to the African American Museum of History and Culture, located next to the Washington Monument. It wasn't only the youth that got a new experience today, as Wagner's dream of visiting the historic Howard campus came true. It may be too late for Wagner to play HBCU football, but his efforts to shine a light on the schools may lead the next B-Wagz to come out of a Black college.