Finding the drive to compete has never been a problem for Brandon Wegher.
Nearly four years after playing his last down for the Iowa Hawkeyes, the former Sioux City Heelan star is back on the field, this time at Morningside College, where his edge is as sharp as ever for the No. 1 NAIA school in the country.
“I missed that so much when I was away,” he said. “Competing for a spot, competing in games, competing at practice and in the weight room. I hate to lose. I was always really missing that.”
In his one year at Iowa, Wegher rushed for 641 yards and a freshman-record eight touchdowns. He left during fall camp in 2010 for personal reasons. Brief stops at Oklahoma and Iowa Western followed.
“I had some issues at the time,” Wegher said. “I've worked through them.”
During his time away from the game, Wegher worked for a mining company and then his father's construction firm. Through it all, he never lost the urge to play.
He made a few calls, including one to Steve Ryan, the coach at Morningside, a Sioux City, Iowa, school not far from where Wegher grew up in Dakota Dunes, S.D. Their paths had crossed a few times while Wegher was in high school, and some of his former teammates are playing for the Mustangs.
It's a call they're both glad Wegher made.
Ryan said the 5-foot-11, 210-pound running back has an excellent work ethic, a competitive drive, wants to be successful and has been a great teammate.
He rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns in Morningside's 56-28 opening win over Valley City State. After three victories, he's the Mustangs' leading rusher with 277 yards and three touchdowns on 53 attempts, an average of 5.2 yards per carry.
He's also handling kickoffs, with 25 for 1,536 yards for an average of 61.4 for the high-scoring Mustangs, who play at Midland University at 1 p.m. Saturday.
“Brandon is very explosive and talented,” Ryan said. “He definitely makes us better.”
That first game, Wegher said he was just concerned about catching his breath on a hot night. And although there were 6,000 fans instead of the 70,000-plus at Iowa, he felt back at home on a football field — any football field.
“I was excited to play,” he said.
He'd done a lot of running and lifting to get ready for the season, but he's had to get back in the groove of seeing things on the field and getting his speed back. Those are things he continues to work on in practice.
His goal is to get back to being the player he used to be. He thinks he's close.
Just as important are the goals he's set with the team, which made it to the national championship game last fall and wants to return, this time with a positive ending. Meet those, he said, and he'll be happy.
Wegher said he's grown up since his days at Iowa, and it shows in his relationships with his teammates.
He's talked to some of them about not falling behind in school and staying on the straight and narrow on weekends. He also tells them about how important diet is to practicing and playing at their best.
“It's an everyday, 365-day process in terms of being a good football player,” he said. “You can accomplish great things if you work hard every day.”
Wegher has two years of eligibility remaining. He doesn't know if he'll use both of them, since his entire life he's dreamed of playing pro football. He knows his competitive clock is ticking.
He also has a family to provide for. He and his fiancee, Megan Glisar, have a son, Brody, who's pushing 3. They live in Vermillion, where Glisar is a high jumper at South Dakota. Wegher commutes 45 minutes to school each day.
Brody is in the stands at games, yelling for his dad and Morningside.
“I've been trying to explain to him what a handoff is,” Wegher said. “All he wants to do is kick the football.”
Wegher says at the end of the season, he'll sit down and do some serious thinking about his future.
Right now, it's all about the next practice and the next game and how happy he is to have football in his life again.
“I'm just blessed to be playing football at any level,” he said. “I can't explain how blessed I am to be playing the game I love.”