Country Day’s Steven Wagner trades in gloves for pads

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Country Day's Steven Wagner, Newman's James Downing
(Photo: Parker Waters)

Country Day starting running back and defensive end Steven Wagner knows how to take a hit and hit right back. He didn’t learn that the way most football players do on the gridiron. He learned it in the ring.

Wagner, a 5’11, 230 lbs. senior, made his return to the football field this season after spending the last two years of his high school career focusing on boxing. After the Cajuns finished last year’s regular season undefeated and made it all the way to the Division II semi-finals, Wagner knew he wanted to be a part of something special with his last year.

“Just seeing what my senior teammates accomplished (last year) motivated me a lot,” he said. “Even when I wasn’t playing football. Knowing that I’d have a strong group of captains to lead a team including some of my classmates made me think that we could really bring some good intensity out as a whole team.”

Wagner grew up boxing, following in the footsteps of his two older brothers, who were wrestlers. Combat came naturally to him and he thrived at it in his two years away from football following a freshman year competing for the Cajuns. Country Day head coach Joe Chango was ready to welcome Wagner back into the fold.

“I constantly tried to talk him into staying,” he said. “He was really into the boxing and I understood. I don’t press kids too much if they’re not interested. He was into the boxing so I got it but I always left the door open for him. I told him ‘when you want to come back just come talk to me. Right after the season last year he said ‘coach I think I want to come back’ and I said ‘we’d love to have you.’

The road to preparing for football season for Wagner mostly consisted of increasing his diet. He said that football doesn’t require him to worry about his weight whereas in boxing he had to focus on the pre-fight weigh in. Otherwise, the journey back has simply required him to do something he’s quite familiar with: bringing the pain

“I just try to give it 100% and just hit somebody and cause damage,” he said.

Wagner hasn’t appeared to miss a beat after his two-year absence. On the season he’s been in on 37 tackles with 2 sacks and a forced fumble on the defensive side of the ball. He’s also made his presence felt on offense with 46 carries for 226 yards and 3 touchdowns while also coming up with 12 catches for 96 yards. That includes 5 solo tackle and 2 TFL performance to go with a rushing touchdown this past Friday against district opponent St. Martin’s, a game the Cajuns won 56-0 to move to 4-2 on the season.

Chango believes that Wagner’s boxing experience has helped him mentally, Chango wrestled growing up and knows that the approach to wins and losses in boxing can help on the field.

“You don’t allow the frustrations of individual losses effect you the same way maybe when you compete in an individual sport a lot,” he said. “I wrestled growing up and I think that guys I wrestled with we had a different mentality because you go out there sometimes and you get pinned and you pin the guy and so in the middle of a football game when you lose an individual battle on a particular play I think you’re able to move forward. If he gets driven off the ball on a play it doesn’t happen to him again. He adjusts to those things and fixes it. Again that’s just his competitive nature and he doesn’t allow adversity to affect him and I think that has a lot to do with competing in individual sports.”

Wagner says he plans to pursue professional boxing in his future, but for now, he’s just focused on getting his team ready as they prepare to take on district opponent West St. John this Friday in a game that could end up deciding the winner of the district. Wagner’s focus is just on taking the same approach he always does.

“We’re working hard,” he said. “We keep high intensity. We need more of that high energy every day and to just work as a team. Really just improve our game. We need to get better at an intense level.”

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