Cougar LB a First Round Pick?

Cougar fans have fond memories of the last BYU linebacker drafted in the first round. Rob "The Freight Train" Morris went to the Indianapolis Colts as the 28th overall pick. The Cougars could have another linebacker go in the first round without even declaring for the draft. Sound strange? Well, they brew things differently in Canada.

Aaron Wagner transferred to BYU from Washington State following a mission to Las Vegas. Since arriving in Provo, he has earned a reputation as a tough, aggressive defender. With one more year to go, Wagner is being promised a spot in the first round of the Canadian Football League draft, despite an injury he suffered last season.

"All the coaches got calls on me," Wagner said. "I got about eight different organizations from the CFL interested in me. I think the CFL draft is on [April] 20th, and four or five teams have said they are going to take me in the first round if I'm still around for their first round pick. I know the Toronto Argonauts have the sixth overall pick but they're trying to trade up for the third or first overall, so wherever they can get that's where they're going to try and take me.

"The Calgary Stampeders, Edmonton Eskimo's, BC Lions, Montreal Allouettes and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and a few other one's that have said they want to take me in their first round pick. They want to take even though they know of my injury. They have all the stuff and in fact all of them have talked to Coach Omer and he just said, ‘Hey, yeah he's injured and he's only at about 85 percent with his lifts but his 85 percent is a lot better than some at 100 percent, so many of those organizations are happy about that and the fact that I've been able to come back so quickly."

Wagner has no agent and his amateur status will not be affected by the actions of any CFL team. Cougar fans may worry that Wagner will forego his senior year as a Cougar for a CFL contract, but any such anxiety is unnecessary.

"I want to come back—leaving is not even a possibility," said Wagner. "Obviously I want to go to the league [NFL] and I've always believed I had the ability. I've spoken to the coaches about that and they've said that I have that ability. I just have to have a year of production and that's what it has come down to. All the numbers are good and all that stuff I just need to have a good productive year."

Recently, Coach Mendenhall sat down with Wagner for a little chat. The topic of conversation was how Wagner would fit into the new defensive scheme, a scheme Mendenhall changed to suit the strengths of the defensive personnel.

"He took me into his office the other day and asked me what position I wanted to play, and I told him obviously I felt more comfortable on the inside," said Wagner. "I played on the outside last year and I told him I felt uncomfortable up on the line off scrimmage, especially on the left side.

"I just never played there and had never played as a line of scrimmage guy, but to be able to get back to my natural position on the inside and be able to make plays on both sides of the ball and pursue, that's what I'm good at. That's where my instincts, I think, will really shine through, so I'm very excited about the new defense."

When Wagner receives his clearance from the doctors and trainers, he will be competing against other talented inside linebackers such as Markell Staffieri for the starting job. BYU coaches' policy is that injured players return to the spot on the depth chart that they held at the time of their injury. That will put Wagner with the ones when he resumes practicing.

"Obviously the coaches have been prepping me," said Wagner. "Coach Tidwell takes me in everyday and says, ‘Hey you have to learn this mentally right now so as soon as you get cleared you can step right in because this is your spot.' It's my spot to lose really. I mean that's really what it comes down to. You can't lose a spot to injury. I'm excited and can't wait to get out there and get the green light to get mean and nasty and to get that offense to fear us a little bit."

Wagner is a fiery, motivated, hard-nosed athlete who is not afraid to mix it up with anyone. He brings a fearless and competitive nature to the field that not only helped to set the tone for his defensive teammates, but also stirred up his the guys on the opposite side of the ball.

"Right now I feel like [the defense] is getting taken a little bit," said Wagner when he noticed BYU tailback Fui Vakapuna walked by. "This number one [Fui Vakapuna] here walking behind me, I told him in the locker room that I couldn't wait to get out there and blast him. He just smiled and said he's looking forward to it too. Every scrapper wants to get into it, so he's happy and I'm happy when we're mixing it up. It's a good deal.

"I just want to get in there and set a tone. I want to get in there and be the most hated person on the team and that's all I want right now. I can't do that right now from the sidelines. All I can do is yell and say mean things to people from far away. It just burns me up to see everyone being so nice."

Wagner was suited up today but was not allowed to participate in any of the drills or light scrimmages. It has been a frustrating and difficult time for Wagner. If he had the final say, things would be different.

"If it weren't up to Kevin [Morris] I would be out there," said Wagner. "I feel totally ready to go but they said a minimum of eight months just because of the graft, I guess, to heal the bone, but as far as leg strength I'm probably squatting over 500-pounds, cleaning over 350-pounds and I'm ready to roll.

"So eight months is a minimum for me. That's the date for me because I'm going as soon as I can. I feel like I can go, and, like I said, if I could go I would be out there right now making plays."

Currently, Wagner has been going the extra mile during his rehab process to ensure he meets his eight-month goal. His hope is to right in physically, mentally without mission a beat.

"It's going awesome," said Wagner. "I'm lifting everyday with the team. Right now, because spring ball has started, they've toned it down to a two times a week lift, but I still come in every morning. So I'm there five days a week and during practice I also do additional rehab and cardio, and I'm enrolled also with the Frappier year acceleration program over at the hospital, which has high speed treadmills, incline, decline and then back pedaling so I'll be way in better shape then these guys by the time their done with spring ball.

"I'm ready man, and I think my straight away speed is at 100% right now. I'm running really good right now and have been doing so on those high speed treadmills, so I trust my knee right now and Kevin [Morris] gave me hell this morning because I was in there doing power cleans with 350-pounds and I was supposed to be wearing a brace. He came in and yelled at me, ‘Hey, get your brace on!' and stuff. I don't want a brace because it just reminds me that I had an injury, and as far as I'm concerned I didn't have one. "

Wagner is expecting to be an intricate part of the defense once he gets the green light to play. He expects the defense to play a part in winning the Mountain West Conference. He intends to bolster a defense that many question.

"There is only one expectation this year and that's to win the Mountain West Conference," said Wagner. "My expectations, as far as the defense goes, is to establish ourselves as a good defense and we haven't done that. Everybody talks about our offense how it's going to be great, and everybody is excited about it and about our new defensive scheme because they're hoping our defense will be better because it's focused around our best positions, which are the linebackers.

"Nobody is talking about us being a great defense and so I want to get everybody on the same page mindset-wise and get everybody toughened up out there, even if I have to beat up a couple of guys on my own side of the ball—what ever it takes. We'll be a tougher team and I can guarantee that, and that is what I think I bring to this team. Regardless if someone thinks my strengths are this or that one thing is for sure, I'll bring toughness on this side of the ball."

Another Wagner many BYU fans are anxious to see in Cougar colors is linebacker Jadon Wagner who will be finishing a LDS mission this year and joining the Cougars in January in 2007.

"He's doing awesome!" Wagner said. "He just got transferred to a little podunk town in Wyoming, but he was on the campus of The University of Colorado for about four and a half months, and he was lifting with the University of Colorado's football team every morning at around 5:00 in the morning before his studies at 6:30 in the morning.

"The University of Colorado had a 5:00 a.m. lifting group so he was in there lifting with those guys every morning. He's now up to a solid 255-pounds and he sent me a picture of him flexing—that's one of those things brothers do, I guess. He looks good and a coach timed him there at a 4.6, which is really good when you're 6-4, 255 pounds. He's excited. He gets back on October 3rd and he'll enroll in January and participate next spring."

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