The Next Man In

When starting left tackle Gabe Carimi, the focus of Badger Nation would be to the severity of that injury and how soon until he returns. The focus of his replacement, Ricky Wagner, was to make the most of this opportunity, a chance the tight end-turned-tackle has not let go to waste.

MADISON - There was no doubt where Ricky Wagner wanted to play college football. Like many high school athletes that grow up in the state of Wisconsin, the thoughts and the dreams of playing for the only Division 1 school in the state are scenario number one.

So consider the preface that the Badgers were fortunate to have Wagner as a preferred walk-on in the 2008, as Wagner chose to follow his dream instead of taking a football scholarship from Wyoming or basketball scholarships from UW-Green Bay and UW-Milwaukee.

"This was my place," said the soft-spoken Wagner. "I always wanted to go here. I grew up watching them, I love the city and I love the campus."

Coming in as a 260-pound tight end from Nathan Hale High in West Allis, Wagner is already stepping into the fold with the first-team offense, but his position of choice now is at left tackle.

With offensive line coach Bob Bostad looking to increase depth on the line, Bostad approach Wagner a couple months into the 2008 season about putting on some more weight and moving to the tackle position. Working last year on the scout team and spending time with the second-team line during spring and fall camp, Wagner was slowly getting comfortable with the position.

"(Bostad) liked my size and thought I could gain more weight," Wagner said. "The run blocking shared some similarities, but the pass blocking was something I needed to work on. It's something that has been really new to me."

As good of pace Wagner was on to learn the position, he received a bittersweet push forward when junior starting left tackle Gabe Carimi was injured with a mild knee sprain during practice last Tuesday. While his teammate was being carted off the field in serious pain, Wagner was thrust on to the first-team offensive line.

"It's not a good thing that he got hurt, but it's the next man in," Wagner said. "I just have to try my best. I have great coaches and great players around me helping me out."

Working with an offensive line that is already missing three starters, Wagner has held his own at left tackle. He didn't allow senior O'Brien Schofield to cause much havoc during Saturday's team scrimmage, much to the delight of Carimi, who has turned into a second coach while Wagner is on the field.

"I always ask him questions," Wagner said. "Anytime I make a mistake, he's quick to point out how I can fix it. He's a goof, but he's a great guy."

With Carimi expected back in the next 7-10 days, Wagner will continue improving in his first real-time action at a position he has less than a year to learn. In the long term, Wagner's repetitions might benefit UW, as the Badgers now have a legitimate backup if Carimi or right tackle Josh Oglesby need a replacement.

"It's great to know that the coaches are giving me a shot," Wagner said. "It's a good motivator for me to get better everyday."

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