Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

COLLEGE FOOTBALL ; Wagner Looks to Lead Young Golden Eagles Defense

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

COLLEGE FOOTBALL ; Wagner Looks to Lead Young Golden Eagles Defense

Article excerpt

The University of Charleston has hung its hat on two things in the four years under coach Pat Kirkland - the running game and defense. While a change in the former - strengthening the passing attack to create balance - is something Kirkland and company are trying to do, preventing a change in the latter is something with which senior cornerback Torie Wagner will be largely tasked.

Wagner will be a rare familiar face lining up for UC's defensive unit after eight starters used up their eligibility, including the entire front seven from last year.

Among those departed players include five first-team All- Mountain East Conference selections from a year ago, including defensive linemen Rockford Stone and Demertrius Reddick, linebackers Justin Avery and Matt Duncan and corner Ike Gibson.

Wagner also made that list, twice in fact - once as a defensive back and once as a kick/punt returner.

Emerging as one of the nation's true "X factors, Wagner returned two punts and a kickoff for scores, finished fourth in the country in punt-return average at 18.4 yards and also averaged 29.2 yards on kick returns. All of this while picking off four passes and making 46 tackles.

Those exploits led to his name dotting several Division II preseason All-America lists, and the team will likely need all Wagner can provide, especially early while youngsters get adjusted to game situations.

"We're going to lean on him in a big way, Kirkland said during a recent practice at UC Stadium. "We're going to move him around a bit at corner and make sure we put him on their best as much as possible. Torie is a guy who's not a big vocal leader, he just does his job and does it hard with tremendous effort. Those guys see it and that's what I want out of my leaders. I don't need them to hoot and holler all the time, as long as you're doing your job with a professional attitude and great effort, that's what it takes and he's done that so far.

While the bulk of the defensive players may be young, both Wagner and Kirkland agreed there is plenty of talent to go around.

Redshirt freshmen Keon Mabin, C.J. Bagwell and Jalen Nelson have emerged as likely candidates to fill two or more starting linebacker spots while junior Josh Williams, James King and John Cominsky will battle for spots on the defensiveline.

"A lot of our defense did leave and they were great players that you can't replace, Wagner said. "But our coaches are doing a great job with the young guys and they're coming along pretty good. Everybody's learning really fast.

Perhaps the biggest thing going in the defense's favor is squaring up against an offense with an abundance of experience at nearly every skill position - running back Marvin Elam, quarterbacks Jermaine Kelly and Jordan Paul, wide receiver Joey Augustin and utility weapon John Knox.

Wagner is keeping his skills sharp by butting heads with Augustin, who led the team in receptions (43), yards (635) and touchdowns (eight) a year ago. …

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