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Chris Murphy, Published September 21 2012

Spuds soccer captain gives up jersey number in honor of fallen JV player


There’s an unspoken bond between players and their jerseys. An athlete shares some of his or her deepest conversations with a jersey without saying a word, but, instead, turning to it to wipe away blood, sweat and tears in defeat, and holding it up or pointing at it in victory.

“A number is a very big deal,” Moorhead boys soccer captain Ben Herbst said. “It becomes a part of you.”

Moorhead’s Jake Leier – another Spuds captain – gave up that bond with his No. 23 varsity soccer jersey for a more special bond: The bond with a fallen teammate.

Leier gave up his varsity jersey number from his sophomore and junior year to honor Austin Wagar, who wore No. 23 on junior varsity. Wagar never got an opportunity to try on the varsity jersey after passing away Aug. 10.

“For me, the No. 23 is what I’ve done here at Moorhead, so it represents my spot at soccer for this school,” Leier said. “I gave it up out of respect for Wagar. That’s what people remember him by, so that’s why I gave it up.

“It’s my way of saying goodbye.”

Wagar’s motto for life was YOLO, which is an abbreviation for, “You only live once.”

His one lifetime, however, was cut short. He died a day after being involved in a car crash at the age of 17.

After two seasons on the junior varsity team, Wagar missed the varsity tryout by a matter of days.

“I didn’t have the privilege of coaching him, though I wish I had,” Moorhead coach Lance Hansen said. “I was looking forward to doing that this year.

“We definitely wanted to remember his name. Every time they read the starting lineup, they didn’t want his number to be a different player.”

Herbst and Leier came to Hansen with the idea of having no Spuds don the No. 23 jersey this season.

“It was his number and we didn’t want anyone to wear it,” Herbst said. “He was a good kid and it was just a way to feel better.”

The Spuds moved to 8-1-1 overall with a 4-1 win over Detroit Lakes (4-8) on Thursday in Moorhead.

Moorhead got a 1-0 lead when Gabe Roach found Carl Walker on a corner kick midway through the first half. Fifteen minutes into the second half, Adam Baker found Roach behind the defense to make it 2-0. And four minutes later Zach Holtgrewe made it 3-0 on a penalty kick.

Detroit Lakes’ Luke Payne cut the lead to 3-1 with a goal with just over two minutes left, but Moorhead’s Anthony Juven sealed it 40 seconds later with a goal for the Spuds.

“To lose a person like Wagar, especially in the way we lost him, it’s definitely motivation,” Leier said. “Every win is for him.”

Although there is not a No. 23 on the field, Wagar is always with the Spuds.

“I think he’s up there watching over us,” Herbst said. “It’s been because of him. I didn’t think we were going to have that good of a team, but we’re just playing harder.”

FIRST HALF: 1, M, Walker (Roach, Holtgrewe), 20:59.

SECOND HALF: 2, M, Roach (Baker), 55:00. 3, M, Holtgrewe, 59:02. 4, DL, Payne, 77:58. 5, M, Juven (Schmidt), 78:41.

SAVES: DL, Johnson 2. M, Swenson 4.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Chris Murphy at (701) 241-5548