KAHUKU, Hawaii—Even playing in Aloha Stadium, the Pro Bowl once seemed a world away to Bobby Wagner.
Lightly recruited out of Colony High School in Ontario, California, Wagner's college options were limited, which is why he ended up at Utah State, the only Division I school to offer him a scholarship. Playing for the Aggies, who are members of the Mountain West Conference, meant games at Hawaii in the stadium that has been the longtime host of the Pro Bowl.
Now, four years removed from his senior year at Utah State, Wagner is back in Hawaii, a onetime recruiting afterthought now being recognized as one of the best players in the NFL.
"It's dope," Wagner said of a return trip to Hawaii. "It takes you on that journey from Utah State. That seemed so far away then. I enjoy it, it's fun. It's different coming back as a Pro Bowler vs. as an Aggie."
But even if being a Pro Bowl seem "so far away" at the time, Wagner did think about the possibility of coming back here someday in this capacity.
"I thought about it," he said. "I thought if I could make it to the league and play well, I could possibly come back to this stadium. I didn't leave something in there and come find it, but I definitely wanted to come back."
Like most players experiencing a Pro Bowl for the first time—Wagner earned Pro Bowl honors last year, but didn't play in the game because Seattle was in the Super Bowl—Wagner has most enjoyed being around players whose games he respects. In particular, Wagner has talked about his craft with San Francisco's NaVorro Bowman, Green Bay's Clay Matthews and Dallas' Sean Lee.
"It's cool to be around guys you watch film on, admire," Wagner said. "It's cool to get the opportunity to pick their brains, see what they do, see what you do different, what they do different."
While the Pro Bowl is hardly known for its intensity, Wagner has said this week that he's "going to go hard man. I'm going hard. I'm out here, I might as well go hard." Whether or not that turns out to be the case, Wagner does appreciate the recognition that comes with playing in this week's game.
Like so many players on Seattle's roster, Wagner came into the league with a chip on his shoulder. As much pride as he has in his alma mater, he believed he was good enough to play at a bigger college program, and while being a second-round pick is no small feat, he thinks he was a first-round talent. That chip, just like Doug Baldwin's or Richard Sherman's or Earl Thomas', hasn't shrunk with money and success, and it likely won't even after earning Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors again this season, but that doesn't mean Wagner can't appreciate a little recognition for his efforts.
"It definitely feels good to be out here, voted on by your peers, coaches, fans," Wagner said.
"It shows you have a lot of respect for you in this league, and hopefully I can make sure I keep that respect and have it grow."
Members from Team Irvin and Team Rice suited up in their respective gameday threads during Pro Bowl week for team photos ahead of Sunday's all-star game in Hawaii.