IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa football prides itself on its toughness and team-first approach.
Ahmad Wagner showcased both of those intangibles for three seasons with the Iowa basketball team in 25 starts and 96 total games.
Iowa football continues to need help at wide receiver. Wagner, once the target of the Ohio State football staff, now is a free agent wide receiver after leaving the basketball program. The Hawkeyes need speed on the perimeter; Wagner anchored his high school’s 4×100-meter relay in Ohio’s largest class.
Wagner has one year left until graduation and it makes sense to complete his degree at his original Big Ten school. He has voiced department promotional videos and has represented the university publicly in fine fashion. He’s as much of an Iowan as he is a native Southwest Ohioan.
Everything points to this as a potential match made in football heaven: Ahmad Wagner catching touchdowns for the Hawkeyes. Cue up the Victory Polka.
As Wayne grad @Ahmad_Wagner turns his attention to football now remember we're talking about a guy that's 6'7" with track speed. He caught 58 passes for 1,028 yards and 15 TDs. @DMitrikTrice0 said it back in high school: Wagner has NFL potential. pic.twitter.com/LTKeayToP3
— James Rider (@JamesRRider) March 21, 2018
“They’ve reached out to me. The offensive coordinator did,” Wagner said of Brian Ferentz. “They’ve been very respectful. At this moment I’m just taking it into consideration and who will give me a chance and just listening to anybody who wants to give me an opportunity to play at their organization. I’m just taking it in right now and listening to their offers.”
Wagner does face a few obstacles if he left the Hawkeye state. At Iowa, Wagner could play football right away. At another Football Bowl Subdivision school, he’d have to sit out for a year or transfer to a lower-division school (barring an NCAA appeal, of course). That could tilt the situation in Iowa’s favor by the program’s own luck.
“I am comfortable with Iowa. Iowa has always treated me well,” Wagner said. “Everybody here, coaching staff, people, everybody has been wonderful since I’ve been at Iowa, so that’s always important. Everything is going to go into consideration when I make my decision. Sitting out, being able to play right away, all that’s going to go into [the decision].”
Wagner shifts from a 6-foot-7, 235-pound forward to probably a 6-6, 235-pound receiver — basketball shoes seem to add height. It might take him more than a season to regain the football form that made him one of Ohio’s best wide receivers in 2014. Perhaps he eventually becomes a tight end.
In his only season playing football at Wayne (Ohio) High School, Wagner caught 58 passes for 1,028 yards and 17 touchdowns and was named first-team all-state. In the 2014 Ohio Division I title game, Wagner caught an 11-yard touchdown pass one-handed and returned a kickoff 90 yards for a score.
“I have confidence in myself and my abilities and what I’m capable of doing on the football field,” Wagner said. “Obviously high school is extremely different than college but I’ve talked to people who coached at the college level and played at the college level and beside me having confidence in myself them having confidence in me also makes things better knowing that I can do this.
“I played wide receiver and that’s what I believe my natural position is because of my speed and my ability to make plays. but if a school thinks I have a better chance at being successful as a tight end, then I wouldn’t be opposed to that. But I’m really just listening to professional opinions and see where I fit best.”
Wagner’s statistics were marginal with Iowa basketball. He was a key reserve in 2015-16 when the Hawkeyes opened Big Ten basketball play 11-1 and were ranked No. 3 nationally. He played in the NCAA Tournament that season, which included a first-round overtime victory. As a sophomore, Wagner put up 4.8 points and 3.4 rebounds and earned the team’s Most Improved Player Award and the inaugural Kenny Arnold Hawkeye Spirit Award.
But this season was different. Wagner averaged just 9.1 minutes, 1.7 points and 1.7 rebounds on the 14-19 Hawkeyes. With only one basketball season left — two for football — if he wanted to play professional sports, Wagner either needs to make a great impact in basketball or switch to football. The NBA seemed unlikely, but the NFL remains a possibility with a change.
“The timing just seemed right so I went for it,” Wagner said.
That also could be the case for the football program. The receiving group has made strides, but none of them are preseason All-Big Ten candidates. Two of the three starting receivers are only in their second semester on campus. The other, senior Nick Easley, is in his third as a junior college transfer. Wagner has played in tough environments like the Breslin Center, Kohl Center and Xfinity Center and left with victories. He won’t be intimidated by environments.
Wagner leaves the basketball program with everyone’s blessing, from the coaching staff to his teammates. He wants to make a smart decision, so he’s taking his time. That will keep him out of spring drills everywhere — even at Iowa, which open today — but ensure he’ll make the right choice. Right now, for both parties, Wagner playing for the Hawkeyes next fall appears about as mutually beneficial as it gets. Iowa has an opening for playmakers and Wagner is now a wide receiver.