Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Bordelon previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Springdale. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America, and was awarded 2022 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Teammates thrilled for 'old man' Wagner's nod
Arkansas offensive lineman Dalton Wagner (78) on Saturday, November 6, 2021, at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Game No. 42 of Dalton Wagner’s career will likely feel a bit different than the others.
Like in 28 other games at Arkansas, he is expected to start on the offensive line. But for the season opener against No. 23 Cincinnati on Saturday — and the rest of the season — he will have “team captain” attached to his name.
Wagner, a 6-9 right tackle from Illinois, informed Razorbacks coach Sam Pittman late last season that he intended to take advantage of the additional year of eligibility granted by the NCAA because of the covid-19 pandemic.
“He’s the old man of the room. He’s really smart,” Arkansas offensive line coach Cody Kennedy said. “He’s seen a lot of looks. He’s been through the ebbs and flows of this thing, man. He’s been through it all. He has a great attitude. I feel like he’s come back and he understands what’s at stake this year.
“He understands what his goals are, what he wants to do, where he wants to see this program at. He’s just a team player that goes out there and gives it his all every day. He’s going to lay it on the line for Arkansas every day.
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“You love those guys in your room. They’re great for your room, they’re great for your team, they’re great for everything.”
His journey at Arkansas, which dates to the spring of 2017 under then-coach Bret Bielema, has included a little bit of everything — highs, lows, multiple head coaches, injuries and even a partnership with the WWE. He is appreciative for it all.
The Razorbacks voting to name him a captain this fall indicates they are grateful for him, as well.
“His leadership and knowledge of the game (stands out),” said quarterback KJ Jefferson, who was voted captain along with Wagner, safety Jalen Catalon and linebacker Bumper Pool. “He’s been here for quite some time now, so he's seen a lot, he's been through a lot. Just being able to go to him when you're going through adversity or facing tough struggles, even off the field, Dalton is a guy that you can always call on.
“He’ll always come and help you any time that you need help.”
Wagner started 10 games a season ago and played a role in Arkansas leading all teams in Power 5 conferences with 227.8 rushing yards per game. He also missed three games as a result of a hand injury that required surgery.
But the player Pittman once described as “tougher than an ol' billy goat” responded. After returning from surgery, Wagner posted a season-best run grade of 87.1 in the Razorbacks’ victory over Missouri, according to Pro Football Focus.
And in the Outback Bowl win against Penn State he recorded a pass-blocking grade of 83.8. For the season, his offense grade was 75.1, which was No. 10 among SEC tackles who played more than 500 offensive snaps.
He finished with an overall grade of 58.9 in 2019 and 62.7 in 2020. The improvement last season, in part, can be attributed to Kennedy.
“Seeing him working with the O-line, seeing him making calls, making checks, and him and KJ communicating back there on pressures and everything, I mean, it doesn't get any better,” Catalon said. “He does the whole package for the O-line.
“Wagner definitely sticks out as a leader of the O-line.”
Wagner’s health was a concern in the spring. A back issue limited his ability to get on the practice field.
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Perhaps unexpectedly, in a preseason in which several Razorbacks offensive linemen have been banged up, Wagner appears to be as full-go as any player up front.
“I’ve had no issues with it whatsoever,” Wagner said of his back after the team’s second fall scrimmage. “I took the offseason really seriously. And once the doc told me what we had to do, we took care of what we needed to do.
“I’ve felt the best I've ever felt since I've been here. I’m just old.”
Kennedy noted on Aug. 15 that Wagner cut his body fat by 2-3% during the offseason. He is listed on Arkansas’ roster at 6-9, 331 pounds.
“He’s trimmed up. He’s done a good job with (strength and conditioning) Coach (Jamil) Walker in the weight room preparing for this last hoo-rah and going to achieve some dreams," Kennedy said. "He’s a team-first guy. There’s nothing about him that’s individual.
“He’s just got goals to see everybody else be happy, see everybody else win. Typical O-line guy.”
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