IOWA CITY, Iowa — Ahmad Wagner has heard the football whispers from the moment he signed his letter of intent to play basketball at Iowa.
In his only season playing football, Wagner caught 58 passes for 1,028 yards and 17 touchdowns and was named first-team all-state at Wayne (Ohio) High School. In the 2014 Ohio Division I title game, Wagner caught an 11-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and later returned a kickoff 90 yards for a score. Wagner finished with 5 catches for 55 yards to go with 109 return yards in then loss.
Wagner (6-foot-7, 235 pounds) made quite an impression on football coaches in his brief moment on the gridiron. Kentucky offered Wagner a scholarship and Ohio State was interested. But Wagner never wavered from his commitment to Iowa basketball. In fact, he had no idea why colleges were even interested in him for football.
“It’s all kind of strange to me because I still didn’t think I was that good,” Wagner told Land of 10 in January. “It’s really flattering, and it’s a blessing that people saw that kind of potential in me.”
In three basketball seasons, Wagner started 25 games for the Hawkeyes and played in 96. As a sophomore he averaged 4.8 points and 3.4 rebounds. He won the team’s Most Improved Player Award and was given the Kenny Arnold Hawkeye Spirit Award.
But as junior, Wagner saw limited action with the Hawkeyes. He put up just 1.7 points and 1.7 rebounds in 30 games. He averaged just 9.1 minutes of action on a team that finished 14-19. Football once again flickered for Wagner as he stared into his shrinking athletic future.
— James Daniels (@jamsdans) March 20, 2018
Throughout basketball season, Wagner remained focused on his squad, even as former Iowa football center James Daniels told Land of 10, “Ahmad should play football.” Tuesday, Wagner saw that his best option to play sports professionally was indeed to shift from the hardwood to the gridiron.
So that’s what he did.
“My plan now is to train and get my body into football shape so I can be ready for when I decide where I will finish my athletic and academic goals,” Wagner said in a statement. “Thank you Hawkeye nation for your support and welcoming me when I first stepped onto campus.”
Wagner considers himself a wide receiver and after anchoring his high school’s 4×100-meter relay team to a fourth-place finish, he has the speed to play receiver in college. Wagner is eligible to compete in football right away at Iowa or a lower-division school. It’s unclear whether he could play football right away for another Football Bowl Subdivision school.
Frankly, it’s mutually beneficial for Wagner to play wide receiver at Iowa. The Hawkeyes have a need at split end, and both the football staff and Wagner know each other well. Wagner could finish earning his degree, work with the team right now and compete for snaps this spring. If it doesn’t work out after this fall, he could always leave as a graduate transfer for his final season.
Wagner is a physical presence with high character and solid leadership qualities. He competed against terrific athletes in the post and often held his own. He has a chance to begin something special as a receiver in college and perhaps enhance his qualities professionally. Former college basketball players such as Jimmy Graham, Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates turned into All-Pro tight ends. Former Penn State forward Ross Travis switched sports after his basketball career and became an NFL tight end. Even former Western Kentucky forward George Fant turned into a starting NFL tackle with the Seattle Seahawks.
Those examples show Wagner he can switch from decent basketball player to upper-level football player. Now he has two years left to prove it.