Wisconsin T Wagner gets scholarship, may start
Sweat drenches Ricky Wagner's bright red T-shirt that reads ''Get ur mind RT.''
It's subtle offensive lineman humor.
While Wagner's shirt boasts the workmanlike mentality a right tackle must have, especially at No. 11 Wisconsin, the truth is that the sophomore would be just as happy anywhere on that line.
''Left side, right side, it doesn't matter to me,'' he said.
Anywhere now that Wagner finally has his scholarship, earning it last week after walking on in 2008.
His name is on the depth chart alongside stalwart right tackle Josh Oglesby for the starting role in Saturday's home game against San Jose State, but Wagner isn't putting stock on a piece of paper that's nothing more than a list of names.
''It's not my job to worry about depth charts,'' he said. ''I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing.''
Wagner decided he'd fit best at Wisconsin after a few small schools recruited him, and then he set his mind toward heady goals.
''I've watched Badger games all my life and I thought I'd just make the best of the walk-on opportunity,'' he said.
First, earn a scholarship, something it took Wagner two years to accomplish.
''I couldn't wait to tell my parents because I just knew they'd love it,'' he said. ''We've been trying our best to pay tuition and stuff - it's been kind of hard - but it's a great relief.''
Wagner's wait to play a bigger role at Wisconsin had a lot to do with his weight. A two-sport athlete in high school, Wagner decided football was his best shot as a tight end and wide receiver. His coaches had a surprise request: Put on weight - a lot of it.
The Badgers offensive line averages about 323 pounds. Wagner was a big kid at 6-foot-6, but only 265. So, he went to the weight room and the training table and it's clear he took the challenge seriously.
''They never gave many set weights or any diet things, I think it just came naturally. When you work hard down in the weight room, you're going to have a larger appetite,'' Wagner said. ''I think my body was changing like that naturally. I didn't really try too hard.''
Wagner played in 12 of 13 games last season after the weight gain during his redshirt year, but he's had to learn a lineman's mentality in a role he hadn't played before, including how to pass block.
''He really had big gains in a short amount of time,'' head coach Bret Bielema said. ''If you stand next to Ricky, he's got that big body.''
Wagner has been splitting repetitions in practice with Oglesby, a junior who has 14 starts and has been named to the Outland Trophy watch list. But Bielema has been disappointed with Oglesby's recent performance and against UNLV.
''He had the procedure penalty and some other things that popped up, and those were some loose ends that showed up a year ago,'' Bielema said. ''It's just something that we're not going to tolerate, and if he continues to do those things, there will be changes.''
That means Wagner.
Bielema has also seen the hard work Wagner has put in and the coach was a walk-on at Iowa who earned a scholarship and a starting role.
''He's a real quiet kid, goes about a business in his own way and, probably of anything, is he just lacks the confidence that you'd like,'' the coach said. ''(I'd) like to be a little bit more confident, and I've kind of talked to him about that. He's our next best option for us at that tackle position.''
Even if Wagner doesn't always recognize himself. He said he occasionally takes a double take when he walks by a mirror and catches a glimpse of the big body he now possesses.
''Sometimes,'' Wagner said. ''But, I'm still the same me.''