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Penn State Football: All About Collin Wagner ... Well, Almost

by on August 25, 2010 7:40 AM

Collin Wagner's football career almost never made it to the 10th grade.

Wagner switched from soccer to football in eighth grade, and kicked a bit for the Park Forest Middle School team in State College. And he played football again when he moved on to ninth grade at State High. But he wasn't even the No. 1 kicker on the freshman squad.

Baseball looked a lot more promising as Wagner prepared to enter his sophomore year of high school. And that's why he was in Connecticut that summer day, playing in a baseball tournament, when his dad C.J. got a call, asking if Collin wanted to practice with the JV football team come August -- and maybe do some kicking.

Collin said no.

His dad said yes.

"He made me do it," Collin says now. "I didn't want to do it."

• • •

Collin Wagner's high school football career almost isn't worth mentioning. According to Collin Wagner, that is.

"I was varsity in 11th grade, but I wasn't very good," he says. "We only made five or six field goals, to be honest. My senior year I did all right. I made a 47-yarder at home" at State College's Memorial Field.

This is what all right really looks like: As a senior at State High playing for Al Wolski in 2005, Wagner earned Associated Press all-state honors, and was the kicker and punter on the All-Mid-Penn Conference team. He was also named to the Patriot-News Platinum 33 and played in the Big 33 Classic.

• • •

Collin Wagner's college football career almost didn't happen at Penn State. Temple came calling. So did the Naval Academy, Bucknell, Cornell and Colgate.

"But growing up here, watching the team -- that's who you want to play for," admits the townie.

So Wagner took the same path that brought Travis Forney (Lock Haven), David Royer (Penns Valley), David Kimball (State College) and Robbie Gould (Lock Haven) to Penn State over the past 15 years.

All came to Penn State from Central Pennsylvania high schools. All were kickers. All lived within 40 minutes of the Penn State campus. All helped keep the Nittany Lions' recruiting budget in check.

"They invited me as a preferred walk-on," Wagner says. "I was treated like a scholarship player. You come in during the summer with all the new scholarship freshmen. You go through the same routine as they do -- you live with them, you eat with them."

Almost the same routine, anyway.

"Well," Wagner admits, "I did have to pay for training table."

• • •

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Collin Wagner's football career almost never got off the ground at Penn State.

Wagner entered Penn State as a walk-on in 2006. Then, for three seasons, he watched as teammate Kevin Kelly became the leading scorer in Penn State history and the leading kick scorer in Big Ten Conference history. Wagner waited, and waited, and waited for Kelly to graduate. It was a very long apprenticeship.

In 2006, Wagner redshirted.

In 2007, he made two PATs against Florida International.

In 2008, he made his only field goal attempt (43 yards) and three PATs.

Meantime, Kelly finished his career with 425 points, tops in Penn State history by a whopping 143 points (ahead of No. 2 Craig Fayak, with 282).

Wagner, an accounting major, can appreciate the numbers: "Once I had the chance to walk on here, I learned a lot being behind Kevin."

• • •

When you look at the competition, entering the 2009 season Collin Wagner almost didn't have a chance to be the starting kicker for the Nittany Lions.

In January of that year, Anthony Fera headed north from Cypress, Texas, to get an early start at Penn State and begin what all the recruitniks were predicting would be a sterling career. Fera was a 2008 Under Armour All-American, a two-time first-team all-state selection and rated the No. 2 kicker in the country by both Scout and Rivals. As a high school senior, Fera made 37 of 39 on PATs and 8 of 9 on field goals, with a long of 58 yards.

David Soldner came in as a preferred walk-on in the summer of 2008. A two-time all-state kicker for Manheim Township (Pa.) High School, Soldner finished his career as Pennsylvania's all-time leader in kicking points (235), field goals (tied for first, with 35), field goals in a season (20) and extra point percentage (130 of 136, 96.5 percent).

Almost makes you want to quit right there, doesn't it?

But Wagner -- all 5-foot-9, 178 pounds of him -- sized up the competition, and decided he wasn't psyched out by their stats.

"I might have been if I was a younger guy," says Wagner, who was beginning his fourth training camp at Penn State. "But I had been here a few years, so I knew what went on."

So, you were The Guy, right?

"No. No, no, no," answered Wagner quickly and adamantly. "Going into preseason it was an open competition. I wasn't taking anything for granted. You have to go in and win the job -- they're never going to hand you something. I had to compete against Anthony and David."

Summer drills went well, and Wagner felt like he had the inside edge to be the Nittany Lions' No. 1 kicker for 2009. When he got the news that he won the job, it was almost like it wasn't a big deal. But not quite.

"Preseason practice was wrapping up and I had a pretty good feeling it was going to be me," Wagner remembers. "Right after one of the practices Joe (Paterno) called me and Matt McGloin over. He told us, 'You guys are going to be on scholarship.' That's how I knew I was going to get the (starting) job.

"It's really cool to hear that from someone like Joe Paterno."

As for his competition, a year later: Fera, after some off-the-field issues, looks to be the Lions' punter (he had a 44.1-yard punting average as a high school senior) heading into this season. And Soldner is still trying to get his picture in the Penn State media guide.

• • •

Collin Wagner's career as a starter almost ended the day it started.

In the 2009 season opener against Akron in Beaver Stadium, he missed two of his first three field goals, connecting from 29 yards, but missing from 28 and 49 yards, both the long and short of it.

Over the next four games, he made a pair of 27-yarders and missed a 48-yarder. He made a 25-yarder against Eastern Illinois in Week 6, but by then the season was half over and he was just 4 of 7.

It was like he was almost not a part of the game day philosophy, like "OK, Collin can make 'em from the 20s, but that's it."

Then he went on a tear, making 6 of his next 7, and what had been heavy second-guessing subsided. Almost.

• • •

The almosts of Collin Wagner's football career ended, for now, on January 1, 2010, on the chewed and churned turf of the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium.

Playing against LSU in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla., Wagner made four field goals in four attempts in horrible conditions to give Penn State a 19-17 victory.

His kicks were not long – 26, 18, 20 and 21 yards – but they were true. And the final one came with 57 seconds remaining to clinch the win. Throw in an extra point, and Wagner finished with 13 points.

"The conditions were pretty tough, but making those four field goals was the high point of my career," he says with pride.

Wagner finished the 2009 season with 91 points, on 15 of 22 field goals, and hit all 46 of his extra points. His longest was a 47-yarder in inclement weather against Minnesota.

His junior season numbers are comparable with those of another State College product, Matt Bahr. In 1977, Bahr made 14 of 24 field goals, with a long of 38. And then Bahr came on in 1978, and hit 22 of 27 with a long of 50 yards. After graduation, Bahr did all right for himself; he went on to play 17 years in the NFL.

Fifty yards might be almost too long for Wagner.

Almost all of Wagner's field goals in 2009 were from the 20s. His second-longest was a 34-yarder against Michigan. Of his 15 field goals made, one was from the teens, 10 were the 20s, three were from the 30s and one from the 40s. His misses last season came from 28, 34, 38, 48, 49, 49 and 51 yards.

Makes you almost wonder if Paterno might bring in Fera or Soldner to try some longer kicks this season.

But, hey, remember: This is Collin Wagner we're talking about. Almost doesn't count.



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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