UK Football

One-handed catches? Scoops and scores? UK transfer might just be getting started.

Ahmad Wagner had 1,028 yards and 17 touchdowns on 58 catches in his one season of football at Wayne High School in Huber Heights, Ohio.
Ahmad Wagner had 1,028 yards and 17 touchdowns on 58 catches in his one season of football at Wayne High School in Huber Heights, Ohio. AP

It was at a preseason scrimmage or maybe the season opener that Bill Greene first saw Ahmad Wagner play.

Wagner then was a 6-foot-4 senior basketball star who was playing his first season of football for Wayne High School in Huber Heights, Ohio.

“He was so raw,” recalled Greene, a analyst and recruiting guru for that state. “He didn’t know what he was doing, but at 6-4, 220 pounds, he could really run.”

Fast forward to the state championship game just a few months later and Greene saw much more than a big, fast player.

“We always thought of him as just a basketball player trying to play football, but that day I knew he was a football player,” Greene said of the wide receiver. “He was unbelievable.”

Wagner also thought of himself as a basketball player, too, and signed to play that sport at Iowa.

Three years later — and apparently three inches taller since the Hawkeyes listed the forward as 6-foot-7 and 235 pounds — Wagner is back to wanting to be a football player. And on Tuesday, he announced he is planning to play wide receiver at Kentucky next season for Coach Mark Stoops.

“After much thought and consideration from my family, I will be furthering my academic and athletic career at the University of Kentucky,” he tweeted with a graphic of himself in a UK football jersey.

Greene can’t help but wonder what could’ve happened by now for Wagner if he’d gone with football. The recruiting analyst goes back to that championship game when the opposing team squib kicked it to Wagner trying to slow him down.

“He scooped it up like a shortstop and there was a small hole and he hit it and he was at top speed after about two steps and he was gone,” Greene remembered of the wide receiver that Scout had ranked a four star and Rivals gave three stars. “I was stunned.”

Ahmad Wagner (18) stood 6-foot-4 when he played for Wayne High School in Huber Heights, Ohio. He's now 6-foot-7. Paul Vernon AP

If Wagner had pursued football from the time he was in ninth grade, he might already be on his way to the NFL, the analyst said.

“He probably would’ve been a three-and-out guy in college and probably would’ve played at USC, Ohio State or Texas or wherever he wanted to,” Greene said of Wagner, who had 1,028 yards and 17 touchdowns on 58 catches that lone season he played for Wayne.

Greene said he wished Wagner had made this move sooner. “Just give up that basketball dream and went right to football. Redshirted a year and learned the nuances of the game, route running and blocking and all the things he just didn’t have.

“Even after that one year, I thought he could’ve played in college, redshirted a year and been a superstar by now.”

Wagner still could be a superstar. The transfer will be able to play starting this season and will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

Taking a player like Wagner, who averaged just 1.7 points and 1.7 rebounds last season at Iowa, was a “no-brainer” for UK.

“You just don’t get physical specimens like this coming out of (junior college) or coming out of high school,” Greene said.

But Wagner has been out of football for a few years and likely will have to shake some rust and learn some of the nuances of the position.

Ahmad Wagner averaged 1.7 points and 1.7 rebounds as a basketball player at Iowa last season. Charlie Neibergall AP

The player will be coming in at a position of need for the Cats, who return proven playmakers in senior Dorian Baker, who missed all of last season with an ankle injury, and junior Tavin Richardson, but mostly potential standouts after those.

But the next tier of wideouts including Lynn Bowden, Clevan Thomas, Josh Ali and Isaiah Epps have yet to score a collegiate touchdown. Bowden had 17 catches for 210 yards in his freshman season. The other three sophomores combined for 84 yards on eight catches.

They will be joined by an influx of freshmen this summer in Marvin Alexander, Allen Dailey, Akeem Hayes and Bryce Oliver. Former defensive back Zy'Aire Hughes also could be a factor.

It might take a little bit of time, but Wagner showed he could catch on quickly in high school, Greene said.

“He hasn’t had a helmet stuck in his chest in a while,” the analyst said of Wagner. “We have to see how he transitions to getting hit in the SEC. But from a pure, raw athlete, he’s top of the charts.”