The Arizona Wildcats have found an impact recruit in an unlikely place: Somebody else's roster.
University of Akron linebacker Brian Wagner, the nation's third-leading tackler as a junior in 2011 and top returning tackler heading into the 2012 season, announced today that he's transferring to Arizona. He will enroll in school this week, and - in what certainly is a major bonus for new coach Rich Rodriguez and Arizona's yet-to-be-hired defensive coordinator - be eligible to play as a senior this fall.
Wagner received his bachelor's degree from Akron last month. NCAA rules permit him to transfer and play immediately if he pursues a graduate degree in a program that's not available at his old institution.
Wagner will pursue a graduate degree in biostatistics at the UA.
"It's the degree I want, and not a lot of people have it," Wagner said today from his parents' Ohio home. "I can get a good part of that done during my year here. From a football standpoint, it seems like they have a need for a one-year guy. I'm excited to help."
Wagner, 22, figures to play right away regardless of which scheme the Wildcats run this fall. Starters Paul Vassallo and Derek Earls have graduated, and a third - Jake Fischer - is coming off knee surgery.
In Wagner, Arizona gets a workhorse with a nose for the ball. Wagner registered 147 tackles, most of the team and in the Mid-American Conference and third in the nation, as a junior. His 13.36 tackles per game ranked second nationally behind Boston College's Luke Kuechly (15.92).
Wagner was considering a handful of schools, but said Arizona stood out because of academics. He also received a nudge from three former Akron coaches with UA ties. Former Wildcats linebacker Charlie Camp was his position coach at Akron. The Zips' coaching staff included head coach Rob Ianello, a former Arizona assistant, and graduate assistant Tony Bouie, a former UA safety. All three were dismissed at the end of the 2011 season. Wagner said he talked to the Zips' new head coach, Terry Bowden, and defensive coordinator Chuck Amato before transferring.
"They seem like great guys, and they had great things to say. I think that Akron was on the ‘up'," he said. "But when our coaches got fired, and Coach Ianello got fired, I just kind of felt that I'd look for another option. This was a good fit."
Read more in Monday's Arizona Daily Star.