Wenger Takes Long Road to Gainesville

Dan Wenger thought it was over. When Notre Dame wouldn't clear him to play his sixth season after a second concussion, football looked like it would become part of Wenger's past. Memories of five years with the Fighting Irish were positive, but he wasn't ready to stop playing. In a last ditch effort, Wenger called his former position coach Frank Verducci.

He didn't know how the call would turn out, but there wasn't much to lose. When Wenger proposed playing his final season for the Gators, Verducci didn't oppose. He welcomed the senior leadership during his first season at Florida.

After running the idea past Will Muschamp and Charlie Weis, the Gators still needed to see if Wenger could pass their tests and be cleared from his concussions.

The concussion history at Notre Dame is what made him eligible to transfer. After his second concussion last year, the symptoms "lingered for quite a while." The constant headaches were tough to handle. Even while waking up after ten hours of sleep at night, Wenger would immediately have a headache to start his day.

"I thought I was getting enough rest, but I wasn't," Dan Wenger said. "I'd be dragging through the day and exhausted."

He finally asked to see a neurologist, who found out that the symptoms were a product of his messed up sleeping patterns. The doctors gave him some medication to put his sleep back on the right track.

"That was the best night of sleep I'd gotten in two months or so," Wenger said.

However, the doctors at Notre Dame still wouldn't clear him.

During what he called his "official visit" to Florida, Wenger went through seven hours of testing. He drove back from his parent's home in Coral Springs, Fla., a few days later to do even more testing.

They didn't find anything that would keep him off the field for one more season.

"I'm ready to go," Wenger said. "I got the "all good" because I was cognitively and mentally in a good state. We'll test it out today when we put on the pads."

Wenger will now get to return to his home state for his final year of college football. The St. Thomas Aquinas graduate played on an offensive line his senior year with former Florida offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert and now Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Sam Young.

Just months ago, he thought his career was over. While trying to recover last fall, there were plenty of questions in his mind about whether it was worth it to even return. Putting his future health at risk for one more season isn't a trade some players would make.

For Wenger, the clear medical tests gave him enough confidence to play his sixth year, but he admitted the questions of giving up were there.

"When you go through a concussion, the emotions run wild," Wenger said. "One day is great and one day is bad. You contemplate if it's worth it or not. Once you get over that, it's one of those things where this is just instilled in me. It's instilled in me to keep fighting, and I'm going to keep fighting."

Once the paperwork was finished and Wenger decided he would play for the Gators, there was some uncertainty about what the chemistry would be like. He had spent five years in South Bend, Ind., sacrificing to help the Fighting Irish. Now he was trading in that jersey for one with orange and blue.

Any fears he had were eliminated immediately.

"Coming in the first day, I was trying to just learn my way around the building," Wenger said. "It was very surprising to me how welcoming the guys were. It wasn't the awkwardness with them thinking I was a new guy trying to steal their position. I'm going to be a team guy. I'm not holding any secrets back or anything."

Besides adding an extra body to an offensive line that desperately needs them, Wenger brings experience. There are upper classmen on the Florida offensive line, but none of them have experience in Charlie Weis' offense like Wenger does.

He spent one year under Verducci at Notre Dame and four years playing for Weis, so the offense is still carved into his mind. The offense he has seen in limited workouts at Florida is almost a mirror image of the one he played in at Notre Dame, including the same line calls.

"I'm that player's coach," Wenger said with a laugh. "I've spent a lot of our down time with guys in the film room. We did it a lot this summer, just watching film twice a week and trying to get everyone on the same page."

Wenger didn't waste much time getting his teammates into the playbook and helping them watch film once he was on the team. He understands the challenges and complexity of Weis' offense after playing in it. Wenger played mostly center at Notre Dame, but he got reps at guard in practice, giving him a broader knowledge of the offense.

"I know how it is coming into a new offense," Wenger said. "Coming into Coach Weis' offense, your heads spins… constantly. I can only imagine only 15 practices from the spring for these guys with this offense. It's tough to get down."

When Wenger decided to come to Florida, he did so with zero expectations. Sam Robery and Jonotthan Harrison were perceived as the two who would battle for the center position, but Wenger's addition now throws him into the mix.

Even if he doesn't see much playing time this season, Wenger's mindset won't change. He just wants to help the team.

"My biggest thing is that whatever my role on this team is, I'm going to be my best at it and embrace it," Wenger said. "If I'm second string, I'm not going to be holding back information from the guys. If I'm a starter or scout team, that's my role and I'm going to be the same guy I've been all summer. I'm going to help the guys and make this as best of a situation as possible for everyone involved."

It has been a long road to Gainesville, but Wenger will finish his college career in his home state.

"I'll never regret that decision at all," Wenger said about his time at Notre Dame. "It holds a special place to me, but that time is now in the past. Now it's about Florida. I'm a Gator at heart. This is where it ends for me."


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