Arizona Wildcats linebacker Brian Wagner, a graduate transfer from Akron who was the nation’s leading returning tackler, has left the team.
“I don’t have love for the game anymore,” Wagner told TucsonCitizen.com on Friday.
“I told Coach that, and that was it. It was something I was thinking about for a long time. That’s kind of where I’m at right now.”
Wagner was expected to be one of the top newcomers for first-year Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, giving the Cats experience in a thin linebacker corps. Wagner worked as the first-string middle linebacker in UA’s new 3-3-5 scheme for most of spring practice.
Rodriguez, in a text message, echoed Wagner’s sentiment, writing: “He just decided not to play football anymore.”
Wagner made 147 tackles in 11 games at Akron last season, when he earned first-team All-MAC honors. His average of 13.36 tackles per game was second in the nation to Boston College’s Luke Kuechly, who was the ninth overall pick in the NFL Draft.
In an interview that he wanted to cut short, Wagner said he is unsure of his next move academically, adding, “I think I’m done with football.”
Wagner (6-0, 230) enrolled at Arizona in January and was going to be able to play immediately as a graduate transfer with one season of eligibility remaining. He was pursuing a graduate degree in biostatistics.
Arizona’s projected depth chart at linebacker would have included Wagner, junior Jake Fischer (coming off a torn ACL from spring 2011) and sophomore Hank Hobson.
The backups on the outside entering camp figured to be true freshman C.J. Dozier (who enrolled at the semester break) and senior David Lopez, a former junior college transfer — although Lopez also has left the team, an athletic department spokesman said Friday.
Sophomore Rob Hankins was the probable backup to Wagner.
Now, other than Fischer, Arizona doesn’t have any linebacker with more than just a taste of major college football.
Early in spring practice, Rodriguez said of Wagner: “He’s a smart guy. You can tell he played a lot of football. … He’s not a big guy. He’s not the fastest guy. But he’s big enough and he runs well enough. You can tell he loves football. We need him to be a player.”