Where I'm from, fighting was a lot more acceptable," said Wagner, a native of Lethbridge, Canada. "I remember when I came down here for some football camps and people would start getting mouthy, and I would instantly go and start fighting with them. People would say, ‘Whoa, you can't just go and start fighting with people when they say something mean to you!' I was like, 'Well, that's what we do where I'm from.' I always enjoyed fighting and that's why I did it before my mission."
Wagner enjoyed fighting so much that he participated in a match the day before he put on his name tag as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"There is a good fighting program in Southern Alberta where I'm from, and the guy who runs it named Lee Mein," Wagner said. "He runs the Canadian Mixed Martial Arts Center, and I asked him if I could fight. He said, 'Normally I just don't let anyone just come and fight on my cards. You have to have a year of training before I'll even consider you.' I had a couple of friends that fought on his cards, and so he kind of knew me, so he gave me a chance and I trained for about a week and half just to get some cardio and a little technique before I fought.
"Well, by no means am I an MMA fighter," Wagner continued with a laugh. "I trained and had one fight before my mission though. It was a TKO and the fighter threw in the towel in the second round. That fight was actually a day before my mission, and it wasn't until after a couple of months into my mission that my brother [Aaron Wagner], who was playing here at the time, gave the coaches a tape of my fight."
This past September 24, former Cougar defensive end Jan Jorgensen won his first amateur heavyweight MMA fight against former UCLA defensive tackle Jerzy Siewierski. Jorgensen eventually won by technical knockout early in the third round. If Wagner ever thinks of picking up the sport again, maybe he could spar with his old teammate formerly known as "The Janimal," now known as "The Saint."
"I would be happy to," said Wagner with a laugh. "Hey, why not? He's now Jan 'The Saint' Jorgensen, and that would be fun. I still follow MMA fighting and did enjoy fighting."
Prior to his mission and stepping into the octagon, Wagner was offered a scholarship by BYU. Boise State, Tulsa, Washington State and others had also offered him, but those scholarships would be offered to him after his mission. His first year at BYU was in 2007, when he redshirted due to an injury.
"I've played linebacker my whole life, but when I came here I struggled with injuries, but playing linebacker is where I started out playing when I first got here," Wagner said. "I played both the Sam and Will linebacker position my [redshirt] freshman year. I was a backup at the Will and Sam spot and got in a couple of games."
However, Wagner would face more adversity.
"I then got injured and had to have shoulder surgery," recalled Wagner. "I've had a couple of injuries that really kept me from seeing more of the field. I played d-end last year and that's where I was moved to. The coaches thought I was physical enough to play on the d-line, and so I was backing up guys while I learned to play the position. I was planning on contributing there last year, but then came down with mono that fall camp. If you miss fall camp you're pretty much not going to play, so I played mostly that year on the scout team. I learned a lot from Coach Kaufusi, using my hands and learning different techniques."
Entering his junior year, Wagner went to new Cougar coach Nick Howell last January about moving back to outside linebacker where he felt more comfortable.
"I mentioned to [Howell] that maybe he could use me on the outside, and he felt good about that and wanted me to come play for him," said Wagner. "So, I switched back and it's been going well for me. The main thing that I've always felt I bring is a physicality to the game – holding the edge and knocking people back and just being that physical player that I've always tried to be."
Having played defensive end under Coach Kaufusi, Wagner feels the move back to his more natural position of Will linebacker in the Cougars' 3-4 defense is a natural fit for him given his physicality and abilities.
"I've always played backer, so I've always thought of myself as a linebacker," Wagner said. "I probably do have more of a stand-up defensive end body being around 6'5", 245 pounds. But in our defense, the Will linebacker is really a stand-up d-end. I think it's the best fit for me on our defense. So really, they're using me as a stand-up d-end. In certain calls, I'll go play the Sam position depending on the situation."
Wagner has played well enough at the Will position that the Cougar coaches can move highly recruited freshman linebacker Kyle Van Noy to the Sam linebacker position. Since moving back to Will linebacker, Wagner has tried to bring his fighting mentality to the field. He has since started at the Will linebacker position since the Utah State game.
"Well,I wouldn't even classify myself as a successful Will linebacker yet; I've only had two games," Wagner said with a smile. "I do think Coach Mendenhall, along with a lot of the new coaches like Coach Howell, want fighters on this defense though. That's the number one thing, they want fighters. That's why they allowed me to switch back to linebacker, because of that fighting mentality. The one thing that Coach Mendenhall likes are fighters, and that's really what it comes down to on the football field. It's controlled fighting and that's what he likes."