RECRUITING: It's A Family Affair For Wenger

FORT LAUDERDALE --- A few years ago, on the day that they gave the entrance examination for incoming freshmen at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, Coach George Smith was a bit upset. He was looking for his ball boy, Dan Wenger, but Wenger was nowhere to be found. Smith thought the big kid had decided against playing football.

"Eddie, the oldest son, was here and they had an incoming entrance exam for ninth graders," recalls Ed Wenger, Dan's father. "George Smith was upset that Danny didn't take the exam. Eddie had to tell him he was only in the seventh grade."

Two years later, Dan Wenger finally showed up for football at St. Thomas Aquinas. In the four years since then, he's been molded and developed into one of the top offensive linemen in the country. Tuesday, all the hard work and training was validated for Dan Wenger when he was selected to the US Army All-American Game. Wenger will play center for an East team that includes his St. Thomas Aquinas teammate, Sam Young.

At the ceremony at St. Thomas Aquinas where Wenger's selection to the team was announced, Scout.com analyst Scott Kennedy called the 6-4, 285-pounder (rated four stars) "the best center in America."

It has been a family affair for the Wengers at St. Thomas Aquinas. Eddie was the first and he was followed by Robbie, who is a senior who starts for Colgate. All three brothers were motivated by Ed Wenger, who worked out with them. And Ed, Eddie and Robbie all pushed Dan to be the best of the whole bunch.

"We lift together, we run together," said Ed Wenger. "Between me and his older brothers, we push him and he pushes me. I am kind of speechless and can't say how proud I am of him."

"Him and his brothers all played and were pretty good football players and pretty good baseball players too. They came here and fell in love with football and Coach Smith's football tradition. Even though people told them to keep playing baseball, football was it after that. Football and training for football in the off-season was it. Each brother pushed the other, especially Danny. When he was a sophomore, his middle brother Robbie was a senior and starts at Colgate now. Dan was one of the guys right off the bat."


Dan Wenger and Sam Young

When Dan finally made it to St. Thomas as a ninth grader, Smith immediately began to mold the big kid.

"He [Smith] was already impressed with the size," said Ed Wenger. "He [Dan] came in big and we worked on the lifting and conditioning, but it's Coach Connelly and Coach Smith … they took him and molded them into what they are. Smith told us there aren't too many offensive linemen here that started as freshmen and sophomores."

Earning a place on the Army team was like a dream come true for Dan who felt the selection was both a payoff for the hard work he's put into football and a way to say thanks to his dad and older brothers who have invested so much time into his football career. He was a bit awestruck by the selection ceremony.

"It was a great ceremony," said Dan. "It's very overwhelming to be selected for a game like this. It's all the hard work paying off and I know my family is proud of me. That means a lot to them and that (in turn) means a lot to me."

Coach Smith loves what Wenger brings to the table every Friday night. He knows when Wenger steps on the field, all of that fighting and wrestling with older brothers and his father translates to a nasty streak on the field.

"Danny is a warrior, he is a very tough, blue collar, inside guy," Smith said. "You better be ready to play against him."

The nasty streak combined with strength and natural athletic ability has made Wenger one of the top recruits in the nation. He has four schools that have impressed him and he's left room for a fifth school to make a pitch for his services.

"I took a visit to Purdue and I take one to Notre Dame on November 4th with Sam for the Tennessee game," said Dan. "Two more visits will be to Duke and Florida. The last one is up in the air and it might be Boston College."

Florida isn't only the closest school on his list, it is the one school that teammates Sam Young (rated five stars by Scout.com) and Marcus Gilbert (rated four stars) have in common. Wenger, Young and Gilbert are planning to take official visits to Florida and all three rate the Gators very high on their list of favorites.

Even though Florida is held in such high regard, Wenger isn't quite ready to name a favorite or announce a commitment.

"I will decide [where to sign] whenever I feel I am ready," said Wenger. "I haven't decided when the Florida visit will be but I definitely am going to take one. They are definitely going to be tops until the end.

"I took an unofficial there in July. I loved the whole atmosphere. Coach (Urban) Meyer and (John) Hevesy are great coaches. Their style of discipline and coaching is really what I am looking for in a college."

The Florida Gators lose five offensive linemen this year including starting center Mike Degory. With backup junior center Steven Rissler starting at right guard right now the Gators could really use an all-star center in the 2006 recruiting class.


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