Aaron Wagner's Journey from Cougar Den to BYU

When he left on his two-year LDS mission in the spring of 2001, he told worried coaches at Washington State not to worry that he would always be a Cougar.

His words would ring all too true. At the end of the 2003 season, Aaron Wagner informed WSU Cougar coaches he wanted a release from his scholarship so he could transfer to BYU.

"The coaches didn't understand why I wanted to leave," Wagner said. "It was hard for me to explain to them that, while I was on my mission, I gained a strong testimony and wanted to be around people who believed the way I did."

Out of high school in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, Aaron was a highly recruited football player that many top colleges wanted. He decided that at that point in his life he wanted to play in the Pac-10 and then head coach Mike Price and the Washington State Cougars.

He enjoyed football and school at Washington State, but soon decided he wanted to go on a mission and prepared himself accordingly. During this period, he was instrumental in seeing one of his close friends on the football team baptized. He said it was great experience for him and charged him into the mission field.

Aaron was called to the Las Vegas Nevada Mission and football hopes and aspirations were set aside for the duration. However, late in his mission, he received letters from BYU expressing their interest in having him play for the Cougars.

It was an easy decision for him to immediately transfer to BYU after his mission without sitting out a year, in accordance with NCAA transfer rules.

As he was finishing his mission, he learned that head coach Mike Price had accepted the head coaching job at Alabama and the new Cougars coach was Bill Doba, his linebacker coach at WSU. He switched plans again, thinking it would be a great opportunity to return and play for his favorite coach.

He was home in the spring of 2003 and immediately returned to Washington to start training for the upcoming season, working with a personal trainer who whipped him back into shape.

A few months later, Washington State was in the midst of the Pac-10 title chase, but Aaron admits he didn't see eye-to-eye with the new linebacker coach – and only saw spot duty at linebacker, playing mostly on special teams.

Aaron played in all 13 games, recording 18 tackles, one sack, and one interception returned for 26 yards.

Again, he felt it was time to act and move on his earlier impulse to transfer to BYU.

The move was made and it has been all that he hoped for. "I'm real excited about being here. I've meet with coach (Bronco) Mendenhall a lot and I'm excited about the defense."

Aaron will have to sit the 2004 season because of his transfer rules and will be on BYU's scout team this spring and fall. "I've never had to play on the scout team before, but I'm going to work hard and make the best of it. It could be a blessing for me to take advantage of this year and work really hard to get stronger and faster."

Even though he has only been in Provo since January, Aaron has been working out informally with team members and admits to being impressed.

"The facilities are as good as any in the Pac-10, and that will help recruiting." Aaron noted. "I've been really impressed with the work ethic of the team so far. I have to say, compared to the players at Washington State, the players here at BYU work twice as hard. I really like that because it will push me to be a better player."

There is one player Aaron said was as good as any he has seen in BYU's informal 7-on-7 drills the football team participates in to prepare for spring ball. "That new JC wide receiver transfer, Todd Watkins, is amazing. Not only is he big, fast and athletic, but he has a natural feel for the game. He knows how to come back to the ball, he knows how to find the open field, and he is just a great player. Look for him to have a big year for BYU."

Another player Aaron was very impressive with was Ricks College linebacker transfer Cameron Jensen, who picked BYU over Oklahoma, UCLA, Utah and Arizona State after completing his mission.

Back in Alberta, Canada, after his mission, he met another BYU player who immediately impressed him at first meeting

Just back from his mission, Aaron was sitting on the stand next to two missionaries serving in Alberta. After delivering a talk where he mentioned football, one of the missionaries leaned over and asked if he played college football. Aaron answered "Yes," and that he played for Washington State.

The inquiring Elder said that was great, adding he did as well at BYU. He introduced himself as Elder Ben Olson, the No. 1 rated high school quarterback in 2002. The two paired on missionary exchanges in the area, and Aaron said Elder Olson was a good missionary.

As he sits and waits, Aaron joins a growing list of Div. 1 transfers at BYU expected to make a significant and positive impact for the Cougars in years to come.

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