The nation's leading returning tackler won't be suiting up for Rich Rodriguez's Arizona Wildcats after all.
Brian Wagner collected a whopping 147 tackles for Akron in 2011, which made his per-game average in 11 games second only to Boston College's Luke Kuechly. So it wasn't a surprise when Wagner asserted himself as Arizona's starting middle linebacker during spring practice, having transferred to Tucson this past offseason.
But the Tucson Citizen reported Friday that Wagner has decided he won't play for the Wildcats or anyone in 2012, saying he doesn't "have love for the game anymore."
“I told Coach that, and that was it. It was something I was thinking about for a long time. That's kind of where I'm at right now." He added: "I think I'm done with football."
Wagner declined to specify how he might continue his graduate education. His degree from Akron would have allowed him to be eligible immediately.
Wagner's decision is a stiff blow to a defense that was already struggling mightily in 2011 -- and at 110th in total defense, that's putting it kindly -- and graduated four of its top five tacklers from a season ago. The return of linebacker Jake Fischer from an ACL tear (58 tackles, 7.5 for loss in 2010) will give Rodriguez and new defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel a boost. But with Wagner gone, Fischer shapes up as the only linebacker on the Wildcat roster with more than token experience.
The good news for Arizona is that Casteel's unorthodox 3-3-5 defense outperformed its on-paper expectations virtually every year of its existence at West Virginia -- we'd argue that Rodriguez would still be happily employed at Michigan if he'd been able to convince Casteel to follow him to Ann Arbor when he was first hired there, as opposed to eventually settling for the horrors of the Greg Robinson experience -- and will have an added element of surprise in its first year in the Pac-12.
The bad news is that even Casteel is no miracle worker, and Wagner's absence brings the Wildcats that much closer to needing a miracle to stay afloat defensively.
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