With four seconds to play against Missouri, Kentucky needed a touchdown from the ten-yard line. Needing a big play, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran turned to No. 14.
“You gotta be prepared. You never know when your number is gonna be called,” said wide receivers coach Michael Smith. “We saw it as a situation to get him in the game and try to get a matchup because of his size and speed. To his credit, he was prepared and went out there and gave us a chance.”
Ahmad Wagner’s number had been called rarely, if it all, since the former Iowa basketball player transferred to Kentucky in the offseason. The 6’7″ wide receiver had faith he could give the Cats a chance to win.
“I prayed before I went out there. ‘God, please let me do the best I can to go make this play,'” Wagner said. “The game was on the line. I really didn’t have a choice.”
Wagner caught the fade in the corner of the end zone, but his foot was out of bounds. A flag was thrown, one that might’ve been picked up if he didn’t make an incredible one-handed catch.
“He made a great catch, I mean an unbelievable catch,” Gran said yesterday. “He almost got his footwork in. It helped in terms of, if you don’t catch that ball, you might not get the flag because the guy was all over him. It was awesome.”
Since the bye week, coaches have talked about getting Wagner more involved with the offense.
“We’ve packaged some things for him,” Smith said. “He’s starting to do some things, not only in practice, but he did some things that showed he’s ready to compete in the SEC.”
Wagner’s height advantage is best used near the goal line. He has plenty of practice leaping for rebounds. Catching footballs on 50/50 plays in the end zone is not as easy as you might think.
“It’s harder than it looks. DBs in this conference are good, no matter who you’re playing against,” Wagner said. “They’re going in there and making plays, so I gotta time the ball, I gotta locate the ball, I gotta come down with the catch. It’s more than a big guy jumping and catching.”
Wagner has mastered the tasks to be effective in the red zone. The next step is becoming a better route-runner. It took some time to catch up on all of the football knowledge he missed over the last three years, but he’s close to becoming a weapon that can be used all over the field.
“He has to continue to improve his route-running. It’s different for a guy that big to be able to get in and out of breaks, which I think he’s worked on and has done a pretty good job,” Smith said. “He has to just continue to work and keep grinding. When his opportunity comes, like it did the other night, showcase.”