By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Ahmad Wagner certainly looks the part and plays a position that almost always leaves something to be desired on the Iowa football team.
Or, at least he used to three years ago as an all-state receiver in the talent-rich state of Ohio.
The 6-foot-7, 235-pound Wagner sacrificed what many thought was a high upside as a college receiver to play basketball for Fran McCaffery at Iowa.
Wagner stuck with basketball for three years and was a solid defender, using many of the same physical attributes that helped him as a receiver to guard bigger and smaller opponents in basketball.
But he struggled offensively, so much that he failed to stay in McCaffery’s rotation this past season despite McCaffery often using 10 or 11 players.
Wagner always had dismissed talk about him switching to football – and there was plenty of it after he became a Hawkeye – until Tuesday.
His announcement that he planned to leave the Iowa basketball program to pursue football came shortly after teammate Brady Ellingson, announced that he would transfer from Iowa to play as a graduate student for another school.
Both decisions make sense under the circumstances because neither Wagner nor Ellingson were likely to receive much playing time in basketball next season.
And time is running out.
Ellingson has one more season of eligibility, while Wagner’s case is more uncertain because it depends on what school he would choose to attend for football.
Iowa has an advantage in that Wagner could play immediately and would have two seasons of eligibility if he joined Kirk Ferentz’s football program.
Wagner also could play immediately for an FCS school and have two seasons of eligibility. But he would have to sit out next season, and have just one year of eligibility, if he transferred to another FBS school such as Ohio State or Kentucky.
Those two schools reportedly offered Wagner a football scholarship in high school.
But Wagner stayed loyal to McCaffery, and to the Hawkeyes, until it was obvious that Wagner’s potential in basketball was limited.
He just couldn’t shoot well enough to earn much playing time.
But he hustled and jumped and sprinted up and down the court like a big receiver or a really fast tight end.
So why not give football a shot while there still is time?
Some of the best tight ends in the NFL, including Antonio Gates, played basketball in college before making the switch to football.
That doesn't mean Wagner will be able to do it. But he won't know for sure without trying.
It is uncertain at this stage if Wagner will have the chance to play football at Iowa because there currently aren’t any football scholarships available based on the 85-scholarship limit.
And Ferentz also would have to offer him a scholarship.
A lot of analysis and thought goes into offering a football scholarship, or any scholarship for that matter, so it’s hard to know where the Iowa football coaches stand with regard to Wagner.
He hasn’t played football for three years, and he only played as a senior in high school, albeit at an extremely high level with over 1,000 receiving yards against quality competition.
So it wouldn’t be a shock if Ferentz found a way to put Wagner on scholarship after having a chance to evaluate him. You can’t coach size or athleticism and Wagner has plenty of both.
He also seems like a good kid with high character.
And as mentioned before, Iowa always needs help at receiver.
Assuming Wagner could make the transition, he would be a nice addition to an offense that often struggles to throw downfield.
But that’s a big assumption at this point.
Wagner faces a huge challenge with switching sports at the highest collegiate level.
But you have to admire him for trying.
He gave basketball enough time, along with all of his energy, focus and passion, but it just didn’t work out.
Wagner now hopes to make a name for himself in football.
And should it happen at Iowa, what an incredible story that would be.