If transfer Ahmad Wagner turns out to be a beast on the football field, one of his coaches will be able to say “I told you so” for a long, long time.
When Wagner was at Wayne High School in Ohio, UK recruiting coordinator Vince Marrow tried and tried to sway the 6-foot-5 wide receiver to stop playing basketball and focus on football in college.
“If he would’ve gone straight from high school to college, he’d been one of the top 10 players in college football” by now, Marrow said this summer.
Marrow isn’t alone in that assessment. An Ohio analyst from Scout.com, who has seen Wagner play many times, said if the wideout had played football for more than a season he might have been in the NFL by now.
“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,” Bill Greene told the Herald-Leader this summer.
But Wagner, who only played one full season of high school football, decided to give basketball a go, signing with Iowa, where he played the past three seasons before deciding to head to Kentucky.
Wagner chose to put a helmet and pads back on and try to pursue a football career.
“I just didn’t want to live with any regret,” he said at Media Day last week. “It’s something that’s been on my mind for some time.
“I do love basketball, but I also have a love for football. It’s something I wanted to pursue. After a while, I was like this is something I want to do. Stuck to it and made a change.”
Other Kentucky coaches have cautioned against expecting too much too soon on Wagner, who admits that he’s still “knocking the rust off.”
“I don’t want to put too much on him just yet because he hasn’t played for a while,” head coach Mark Stoops said in July. “We have to see what he can do.”
Stoops noted that Wagner’s size is special and his speed is comparable. Cats quarterbacks had lots of positive things to say after working with the junior this summer.
After the second full day of practice on Saturday, Stoops even seemed to be buying into the hype after seeing Wagner make contested catches look comfortable.
“So far, he’s really done well,” Stoops said on Saturday. “Yesterday he made two really nice catches as well. Those catches where you’re completely covered and he came down with two balls yesterday. … He made two really good catches yesterday where guys were draped all over him.
“He’s a big target, so hopefully he’ll continue to do that for us.”
It was a role the four-star prospect grew into while playing that one season at Wayne, where he led both the basketball and football teams to state title games.
He managed 1,028 yards and 17 touchdowns on 58 catches in his lone high school season. Now he has two years at Kentucky to prove people like Marrow correct.
“They brought me in, just told me what I could do here, what they see my future as and I really liked what they were saying to me,” Wagner said.
The transfer will go to work making up for lost time.
“I’m just trying to get back in the swing of things and keep working,” Wagner said. “Running routes, all those things I missed out on by playing basketball, just picking up my fundamentals and getting the basics back down.”