In April of 2018, Ahmad Wagner was contemplating his future in Iowa City. Fresh off a disappointing 14-19 Iowa basketball season where the small forward played a career-low 9.1 minutes per game, one thought lingered — football.
After weighing his options, the “what if” that followed him since his all-state senior season at Wayne High School turned into the reality of a ten-win football season in Lexington, Kentucky and a New Year’s Day bowl victory.
“It’s crazy because I wasn’t even doing this last year,” Wagner said after Tuesday’s spring practice.
In his first football season in four years, Wagner played sparingly. He failed to record a stat in 2018, but he drew three pass interference penalties on his first three targets, including one that led to a game-winning touchdown at Missouri. Wagner also sealed a block that secured a punt return touchdown for Lynn Bowden in the Citrus Bowl. With his help, Kentucky won nine football games in the 2018 calendar year, four more wins than Wagner witnessed on Iowa’s basketball team.
Wagner played a small role for well for Kentucky in 2018. That role will grow exponentially in 2019.
“Ahmad has really taken some steps, which has been good to see,” said offensive coordinator Eddie Gran. “I actually noticed him the last couple practices, so that’s a plus for us. With that big body, his problem is getting in and out of breaks, using that big body to his advantage, so that’s exciting.”
That big body is one Terry Wilson would like to throw it up to in the end zone this year.
“No doubt,” said Kentucky’s quarterback. “He’s a big target. He’s got good hands. He’s pretty fast. He’s not afraid to go get the ball. Just coming from basketball, he’s been doing a good job on the field learning the offense and just going out there and executing.”
Wagner did not have lofty expectations when he first arrived on Kentucky’s campus. He knew it would take some time to adjust and learn the offense.
“I didn’t feel like I was that good last year. I was just getting into the swing of things,” Wagner said. “This year I wanted to come in knowing the offense a lot better, remember all the teaching points they gave me and perfect that. I feel like I’ve done a good job of that. I’ve shown the coaches I’ve gotten a lot better, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.”
This spring it’s all been about fundamentals. As much as his height is an advantage, it can also be a disadvantage for a wide receiver. Getting in and out of breaks and playing with low pad level is much more difficult for a dude that’s almost 6’7″.
“They’re on me about it on every single route I run. It’s just some thing I had to get adjusted to. I’m used to running straight up because I’m a big guy. They’re on me every time about getting my pad level down and getting on top of my routes. That’s what I really focus on, the little things they’re telling me because they obviously know more than I do.”
As the game he picked up last May continues to slow down, Wagner falls back on his teammates and coaches for supporting him throughout this transformation.
“To see where I’ve come from to here, just credit to the coaching staff and the players we have on this team for helping me out and really getting me ready for the moment.”
Wagner’s transformation is far from complete. When that moment arrives, prepare to see big plays from the big wide receiver this fall.