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Eric Peterson, Published October 04 2012

Concordia kicker from France has developed into steady contributor

Moorhead - Terry Horan didn’t have to travel to the French port city of Bordeaux, located on the Garonne River, to find kicker Ben Wagner.

Wagner sought out the Concordia head football coach prior to last season.

“He just kind of fell into our lap, really,” Horan said. “He showed some interest through some emails.”

In his second year in the program, Wagner has developed into a reliable kicker. The 5-foot-9, 140-pound sophomore has made 19 of 19 extra points and is 2 of 3 on field goals with a long of 42 yards.

“He’s very reliable,” Horan said. “His accuracy is good and his timing is good. We’ve not always had that luxury. We’ve had it with him. We got one of those lucky bounces landing him.”

Wagner’s leg could play an important role this weekend with the Cobbers playing a key Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference game. No. 23-ranked Concordia (4-0, 2-0 MIAC) plays at No. 7-ranked Bethel (4-0, 2-0).

“Five years ago if you were going to tell me I was going to be here kicking for the college, I would have been, ‘Yeah, right,’ ” Wagner said.

Wagner got his first taste of football in 2009 when he was an exchange student at Siuslaw High School in Florence, Ore.

The sport Wagner really wanted to play at first was baseball. Wagner said he fell in love with baseball after going to a Los Angeles Dodgers game in 2008 when he was at a language camp in L.A.

His host dad suggested that Wagner try being a kicker for the football team since Wagner played soccer in France. Wagner made the team and was the kicker for the season.

Video games like “Madden” and “NCAA Football” helped Wagner learn the rules better.

“I taught myself how to kick watching videos on YouTube and the pros and college kickers,” Wagner said.

After spending the school year at Siuslaw, Wagner returned to France for his first year of college. He then came to Concordia right before the start of the 2011 football season to try out for the team as he readied for his first year as a student at Concordia.

“I knew what I wanted to do with school,” Wagner said. “Football was like an extra thing to me.”

Wagner said defensive end Reed Hefta (6-foot-1, 255 pounds) was the first player on the team he remembered meeting.

Wagner was intimidated by Hefta’s size, along with offensive linemen like Tom Knowlton (6-5, 300) and Tom Quist (6-2, 255).

Hefta, Knowlton and Quist – juniors at the time – are seniors this fall.

“(Hefta) came at me and I was like, ‘What’s he going to say?’ He was really nice to me,” Wagner said. “He showed me everything and introduced me to all the coaches and the players. … I was like, ‘These guys are really huge right now.’ It turns out they are like the nicest guys ever.”

Hefta said he thought Wagner was a “normal” first-year player.

“I walked up and talked to the kid and you could tell he had an accent,” Hefta said. “You could tell he was a little out of place.”

Wagner was a junior varsity kicker for the Cobbers last season and steadily improved. Hefta said you could tell Wagner worked hard in the offseason to get better.

“He fine-tuned what he had and really seemed to impress everybody with how he is doing this year,” Hefta said.

Cobbers junior punter Brett Harmelink, who also handles kickoffs, has been impressed with Wagner’s mental approach.

“He doesn’t seem too pressured really. Like every kick is the same,” Harmelink said. “He has really improved on the height on his kicks and the accuracy, too.”

Wagner is a well-liked teammate. He’s earned a number of nicknames – Frenchy, B-Wags and Wags – are among the most popular.

“One thing that stands out is he’s just easygoing about everything,” said Harmelink. “His French accent stands out a little bit. It’s fun to listen to him talk.”

Hefta describes Wagner as a Sacha Baron Cohen look alike.

“You never see the kid really get down,” Hefta said. “He’s just got a great personality. He works and he really takes pride that he’s on the team.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Eric Peterson at (701) 241-5513.

Peterson’s blog can be found at peterson.areavoices.com