No regrets for all-conference athlete

Nick Hartley

Nick Hartley

Coming out of high school, Jackrabbit football standout Chris Wagner was considered more of a basketball player and was built for that sport.

That was five years ago. Now he is ranked as one of the top 20 senior tight ends on many NFL draft sites.

“I think it’s a huge pat on his back to go from a skinny basketball player at Brookings High to being looked at as a potential NFL player,” says SDSU head football coach John Stiegelmeier.

So far Wagner has not been distracted by the glamour that comes with a potential NFL draft option. “I don’t let that affect me at all,” Wagner said. “I know there is some interest. I just go out there and try to make plays, whether it is blocking or receiving.”

‘I just remember going to sleep always having growing pains.’

Wagner was one of the tallest kids in school. Growing up, he was not as highly regarded as his teammates and fellow Jackrabbit, Chris Doblar.

Eventually Wagner grew into his big body and emerged as a high school receiving threat. He got his big break sophomore year. Right before the state football playoffs, Brookings High School lost its starting tight end, Dave Thomas, to a season-ending injury. “Injuries are just a terrible thing and Dave was such a great guy,” Wagner said. “I was just right there, a pretty skinny guy who had to go a 100 miles an hour to get the job done.”

“He came in and took control right off the get-go when Dave Thomas got hurt,” said former coach Gary Maffett. “That was quite a moment for me. Then his touchdown catch in the Dome was a big one; he was versatile and able to get the job done as a split end.”

Wagner also stood out on the basketball court and in track and field. He averaged a double-double his senior year for the Brookings Bobcats on the court and was a solid anchor on track relay teams.

“Chris over-exemplified his athletic ability, because he was so good with his feet,” Maffet said. “Being so quick, Chris was able to do things on the basketball court or football field that taller guys would not be able to do.”

A Waiting Game

Wagner was all but committed to Augustana before Stiegelmeier and staff took notice of his ability and made a last minute deal. “Honestly, going into college I wasn’t sure what I was going to do,” Wagner said. “Luckily I had the chance to play one or the other sport, which a lot of people don’t have the opportunity to.”

He does not regret making football his main game. “I’m glad I made the decision I did today first of all,” Wagner said. “It was probably the biggest decision of my life so far and it’s turned out to be the best too.”

It has not been easy. Wagner came in as a redshirt freshman behind two-year starter Paul Keizer, who eventually tried out for the Buffalo Bills. Wagner went up against him every day in practice for two years. Keizer was then moved to the offensive line, allowing Wagner to start at tight end.

“Paul was one of the guys I looked up to coming in,” Wagner said. “I remember going up against him in drills and he would just blow me 10 yards back and I would struggle to move him five yards. It was great for me to see how hard you got to work as a player.”

By the spring of 2005, it was apparent that Wagner had earned his starting spot in the lineup through hard work and gaining 53 pounds in two years. He quickly emerged as a receiving threat for the Jacks. However, it was not until the North Dakota State game last year when then quarterback Andy Kardoes and Wagner hooked up seven times for 120 yards that people’s eyes were opened.

“He has been a picture of what hard work can do,” Stiegelmeier said. “He’s developed his body and made himself into an all-conference player and it’s been all him. His hard work, his dedication, his weight training and so on.”

His accomplishments on the field last year became preseason accolades this season as Wagner made a few All-American teams. In his career so far as a Jackrabbit, Wagner has amassed 610 yards receiving and eight touchdowns on the field.

What might stand out the most for many fans of SDSU is what he did in 2005 as a member of the SDSU men’s basketball team. In nine games, Wagner and three other teammates filled in on a team that had injuries and other off-court issues. Wagner averaged 1.6 points a game, 2.9 rebounds, and brought life to a team that was down as the Jacks went 4-5 in those nine games.

“My roommate Mike (Loney), I joked around with him,” Wagner said. “I was like, ‘I would like to play one basketball game and that was three weeks before it happened. I jumped in there and ended up playing basketball. Not a lot of people get the opportunity to play two sports in Division One.”

Upward bound after SDSU

With whatever happens in the future, Wagner will not be disappointed. “It’s definitely exciting to have a degree and be able to do what I want to do,” he said. “I look back and it’s been a great ride here. My time here has been great; my teammates have been great.”

The community of Brookings has embraced Wagner and his football career. “That’s very amazing someone of Chris’s stature has a chance at the NFL,” Maffet said, “because Chris is the type of person that would give back what he put into athletics at Brookings High School and South Dakota State.”

#1.883078:863964846.jpg:chriswagnerMGndsu.jpg:Chris Wagner may be headed from the field at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium to the well manicured turfs of the NFL.:Mike Goetz