Wagoner finishing big with 2nd shot

With ban still in mind, Navy senior looks to play extra tough in home finale

College Football

November 10, 2001|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

It has been a topsy-turvy year for Michael Wagoner.

Navy's senior defensive end was a force in spring practice and was being penciled in for a productive season after becoming one of the defense's mainstays last autumn.

In 2000, he finished fifth on the squad with 46 tackles, seven for losses, a team best. He made two key stops against Army in the only game the Midshipmen won.

But then he and quarterback Brian Madden were involved in an off-campus incident last May involving the theft of a parking meter in Baltimore. The two players performed community service, but their involvement precipitated an academy suspension

And the disappointments began to build for both.

"Brian and I listened to the Temple game on the radio, and it was very frustrating," said the native of Wichita Falls, Texas. "Then, I could hardly stand to sit and watch when we lost that way to Georgia Tech at home [70-7, the worst defeat in school history]. I felt terrible, like I had let them down."

Wagoner missed one more game - another loss to Boston College - before returning to active duty. His previous endeavors had been confined primarily to watching and counseling.

"I just feel very fortunate that I got a second chance," he said. "I don't think many people get that."

Now, he again is an integral part of an improved defense that will receive a stern test today from offense-happy Tulane in interim coach Rick Lantz's debut.

"We had a lot of young guys on the defense who didn't have their positions down in their heads," Wagonersaid. "They would look to me to understand how things should be done. I think they could relate better to a player."

"The last few weeks we've made great advances. We've come a long way in a month."

Personally, Wagoner has experienced his ups and downs, making 17 stops in five games, including three for losses.

"He adds enthusiasm for us," said Lantz. "A player who makes plays. He had a burst of energy when he first came back, tailed off, and now he's coming back again."

Wagoner is one of 22 Navy seniors who will perform at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium for the final time, and he feels humbled by his experiences.

"In the back of my mind, I thought I might never play here again," he said. "The ultimate goal is to graduate. I found myself wishing daily I hadn't put myself in that position.

"Stress was a big part of the equation. There are so many other things on your mind here, plus what happened [on Sept. 11] came as a big shock. Things kept piling up. It helped to have a lot of good friends who could share the burden."

NOTE: Among those Navy has listed as doubtful for Tulane are guard Brett Cochran and linebacker Eddie Carthan (both with turf toe), linebacker Jake Bowen (sprained foot) and fullback Raheem Lambert (knee).

Navy today

Opponent: Tulane (2-8)

Site: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium

When: Noon

Radio: WWLG (1360 AM), WMAL (630 AM), WNAV (1430 AM)

Line: Tulane by 2 1/2

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