Big on Wagner

Arkansas fresh­man makes his way to Fayet­teville from Illi­nois.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - BOB HOLT

FAYET­TEVILLE — Of­fen­sive line­man Dal­ton Wagner grew from 6-3 as a fresh­man to 6-9 as a se­nior at Rich­mond-Bur­ton High School in Spring Grove, Ill.

“As much as Dal­ton grew, he never went through that awk­ward phase at all,” Rich­mond-Bur­ton Coach Pat El­der said. “That’s when we thought we had some­thing spe­cial, be­cause it was all such a nat­u­ral CLASS Fresh­man

PO­SI­TION Of­fen­sive line­man

HEIGHT/WEIGHT 6-9, 315 pounds HOME­TOWN Spring Grove, Ill. HIGH SCHOOL Rich­mond-Bur­ton AGE 18 (born Oct. 5, 1998)

NOTE­WOR­THY Early en­rollee who went through spring prac­tice . ... Worked at guard and tackle on both sides of the line, but fin­ished the spring at right tran­si­tion for him.

“He was so ag­gres­sive and phys­i­cal off the ball. Nor­mally guys his size in high school don’t grow into play­ing that way un­til they’re a lit­tle older.” Wagner be­came a three-year starter for the Rock­ets at of­fen­sive tackle . ... Con­sen­sus three-star re­cruit by ESPN, Ri­vals, Scout and 247sports. ... Rated as the top of­fen­sive tackle in Illi­nois by Scout . ... Other schol­ar­ship of­fers in­cluded ones from Louisville, Illi­nois, Pur­due and In­di­ana . ... Par­ents are Brad and Nancy Wagner . ... Fa­ther was an of­fen­sive line­man at West­ern Illi­nois . ... Brother Bryce is an of­fen­sive line­man at South­ern Illi­nois. tackle.

“He’s a per­fec­tion­ist,” El­der said. “He’s a good tech­ni­cian and wants to do things right.

“I was re­ally im­pressed dur­ing his ju­nior year, and then es­pe­cially his se­nior year, how much a stu­dent of the game he be­came. He wanted to know not only what he needed to do and where he needed to be, but where the guy next to him needed to be.”

Spring Grove is about 65 miles north of Chicago and Wagner’s play caught the eye of some­one else from the area — Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville of­fen­sive line coach Kurt An­der­son. An­der­son was a Pa­rade High School All-Amer­i­can line­backer at Glen­brook High School in Glen­view, Ill., and then be­came an All-Big Ten cen­ter at Michi­gan.

Wagner signed with Arkansas and is now play­ing for An­der­son.

“Dal­ton’s body is go­ing to change, but you’re talk­ing about a guy that’s broad-shoul­dered and nar­row-waisted,” An­der­son said. “He looks like those 6-6 tack­les that are put to­gether the way you want, ex­cept he’s just a big­ger ver­sion of them, which is kind of un­heard of.

“He’s a mon­ster of a man and he’s got re­ally good feet. He’s also a very, very smart guy.”

Wagner said he fo­cused on im­prov­ing his agility and quick­ness as he con­tin­ued to grow.

“If you’re big and slow, you’re just kind of out there,” he said. “So I’d have my work­outs at school and then go see a per­sonal trainer after that.

“I also did do some yoga in high school and that helped tremen­dously. Just work­ing on the body con­trol.”

Wagner en­rolled at Arkansas in Jan­uary so he could go through off­sea­son work­outs with strength and con­di­tion­ing coach Ben Herbert and take part in spring prac­tice. He also went through three bowl prac­tices.

“Com­ing in early was def­i­nitely one of the top three de­ci­sions of my life, hav­ing all this ex­tra time with Coach Herb and Coach An­der­son,” Wagner said. “I’m get­ting to know the other of­fen­sive line­men, learn­ing the plays. It’s been so un­be­liev­ably ben­e­fi­cial.

“If I’d stayed at home, I’d have thought I was work­ing hard, but you’re not re­ally work­ing hard un­til you come down here.”

If en­rolling early is one of Wal­ton’s top three de­ci­sions what are the other two?

“Com­ing to Arkansas is at the top of the list,” Wagner said. “Then after that and com­ing in early the third-best thing I’ve down is get­ting a scooter to ride around while I’m here.”

Wagner, 315 pounds, said his size hasn’t been an is­sue rid­ing a scooter.

“Sur­pris­ingly, it’s re­ally not that bad,” he said. “I prob­a­bly look re­ally goofy on it, but it’s so awe­some com­pared to walk­ing or see­ing if some­body can give me a ride. I love the thing.”

Wagner could have stayed close to home with schol­ar­ship of­fers that in­cluded Illi­nois, Pur­due and In­di­ana, but said he wanted to play in the SEC after vis­it­ing Arkansas.

“You go to Big Ten schools and you get the treat­ment, but there’s a dif­fer­ent men­tal­ity down here in the South and that re­ally caught my at­ten­tion,” he said. “It’s a lot more ag­gres­sive down here.

“The at­ti­tude is, ‘We’re here to get stuff done.’ Play­ing in the SEC is big. You can’t go wrong do­ing that.”

Wagner also wanted to play for Ra­zor­backs Coach Bret Bielema, who led Wis­con­sin to three con­sec­u­tive Big Ten cham­pi­onships be­fore be­ing hired at Arkansas on Dec. 4, 2012.

“I was a big fan of what Coach Bielema did at Wis­con­sin,” Wagner said. “When I vis­ited here, I was just dumb­founded go­ing, ‘I’m ac­tu­ally sit­ting in Bret Bielema’s of­fice and he’s say­ing he wants me to come play for him.’ It was just an awe­some feel­ing.”

Wagner prac­ticed at guard and tackle on both sides of the line, but fin­ished the spring at third-team right tackle.

“I was re­ally happy with Dal­ton’s spring,” An­der­son said. “He was phys­i­cal. When he gets his hands on you, he’s go­ing to maul you. That’s ob­vi­ously a great place to start.

“You’d rather start there than with a guy who’s maybe light­ning quick, but a lit­tle soft and you have to try to harden him up. You’d rather teach a guy block­ing an­gles as op­posed to teach­ing a guy how to be tough. You don’t have to teach that to Dal­ton.”

Wagner’s high­light tape for col­lege coaches started with a play from his ju­nior sea­son when Rich­mond-Bur­ton played North Boone.

“They put in this de­fen­sive line­man to go against Dal­ton that was about 6-1, 190 pounds,” El­der said. “Pretty ath­letic kid. They thought he could beat Dal­ton with speed.”

Wagner stud­ied his op­po­nents, but said he doesn’t re­mem­ber the de­fen­sive line­man’s name.

“I’d never heard of him,” Wagner said. “The mo­ment I took my inside step, he slowly came out of his stance, and I just kind of took him for a ride.

“I blocked him for 15 yards and de­posited him. I don’t think I hurt him. He was prob­a­bly a lit­tle up­set. They didn’t put him in any­more after that.”

El­der said Wagner should be a great match for the Ra­zor­backs’ phys­i­cal style on offense.

“Dal­ton loves ev­ery­thing about be­ing a line­man,” El­der said. “He likes a 4-yard gain as much as he likes a 40-yard gain, be­cause he knows they both help you get where you want to go. I think that’s part of what at­tracted him to Arkansas.”

Ra­zor­backs se­nior cen­ter Frank Rag­now said he has been im­pressed by Wagner’s work ethic.

“You can tell he loves foot­ball,” Rag­now said. “You don’t have to worry about him putting in the hard work.

“He al­ways plays 100 miles per hour. You even might have to slow him down to get him play a lit­tle more un­der con­trol, but he’s go­ing to be spe­cial be­cause he has that want-to.”

Wagner, who got some sec­ond-team work at tackle in last Satur­day’s scrim­mage, said he was glad to work at all four guard and tackle spots in the spring.

“Coach An­der­son wants to put the next best guy in, re­gard­less of po­si­tion,” Wagner said. “You might be go­ing in at guard or at tackle, so you need to know all the po­si­tions.

“In the spring I think he just wanted to see if I could fit in at guard, and I ac­tu­ally rather en­joyed it. At guard you’ve got two big dudes next to you and you can be more dom­i­nant in the run game.

“The pulling is awe­some at guard, too. I just need to make sure I hit the right guy.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette file photo

Arkansas fresh­man of­fen­sive line­man Dal­ton Wagner was rated as the top of­fen­sive tackle in Illi­nois by Scout.com. “He’s a mon­ster of a man and he’s got re­ally good feet,” Ra­zor­backs as­sis­tant Kurt An­der­son said.

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette file photo

Arkansas of­fen­sive tackle Dal­ton Wagner said his de­ci­sion to en­roll early was among the top three de­ci­sions of his life.

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