When Wagner started playing football as a junior at Colony High School in Ontario, Calif., he quickly excelled as a linebacker and tight end, but the responsible adults around him told Wagner what a high school kid should hear -- that very few athletes, even the best ones, make it in professional sports.
And heck, what parent, teacher or coach wouldn't encourage a young athlete to focus on academics, especially when few colleges were even interested? Pete Carroll, who was still at USC, did come to Wagner's high school, but it was to look at another player. Wagner remembered that snub when he went to Utah State, the only Division I program that showed serious interest, and he remembered everyone telling him to focus on academics since athletics weren't going to help him make a living -- and for what it's worth, Wagner listened and earned a degree in business entrepreneurship.
"He was kind of a fledgling, young guy growing up and hadn't done much in his high school career at the time, so he remembers that," Carroll said of his visit to Wagner's high school to recruit cornerback Omar Bolden, who ended up at Arizona State and was a fourth-round pick in this year's draft. "I like that chip, too, that he's got about me. That was good."
It may be hard for Wagner to keep that chip on his shoulder now that he's proven a lot of people wrong, but that doesn't mean he suddenly lacks motivation. Part of what gets Wagner and so many other athletes this far is their ability to find motivation in every situation, and that won't leave him now that he's made his way to the NFL. Even if he no longer needs to prove he is good enough to play college football and get the respect of NFL talent evaluators, he now is driven to prove he belongs.
"My motivation is to stay here," Wagner said after his second day at Seattle's first rookie minicamp. "A lot of people get here and then in two years you never hear from them, so I'm trying to stay here for a while and be a contributor to this team."
While a couple of days of practice against fellow rookies and tryout players are hardly enough for Wagner or anyone else to prove anything, he has made a good first impression on his new coaches.
"You only get one chance for a first impression, and I'm really excited about him," said linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. "First thing you're looking at, can he run? Absolutely. Does he look the part? Absolutely. Is he strong and can he run the huddle? Absolutely. It's very early, but we're very happy with what we see so far."
With a vacancy at middle linebacker, the Seahawks hope Wagner will be ready to contribute right away. David Hawthorne's departure in free agency left middle linebacker as a clear need for the Seahawks heading into the draft, and their hope is that Wagner can take over at that spot right away. And while middle linebacker is an important position, the Seahawks are hardly strangers to going young at that spot. With Hawthorne recovering from a knee injury early last season, rookie K.J. Wright started the season opener in the middle before eventually settling into a starting role at strongside linebacker.
More notably, the last middle linebacker the Seahawks picked in the second round became an immediate starter, and all Lofa Tatupu did in 2005 was earn Pro Bowl honors while helping Seattle to its first Super Bowl. And now that Wagner has proven his doubters wrong, he's ready to get busy proving that the Seahawks were right to believe in him.
"I love the pressure," he said. "I'm just going to do whatever I can to start. I know I've got a lot to learn, but I'm going to take my time. We've got time."
Wagner will take his time, but he has no intentions to take it easy now that he has proven so many people wrong by getting this far.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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