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Bounce-back kid

PREP FOCUS: Jesuit QB thrives after missing year with broken leg
by: MILES VANCE, Senior Dan Wagner (right) returned from a gruesome leg injury to become Jesuit’s starting quarterback. Having star tailback Paul Weatheroy around has made Wagner’s job much easier.

The severity of the injury would have justified any kind of reaction from Dan Wagner, who lay on the grass one day last summer at Jesuit High with his right leg gruesomely bent the wrong way.

'It turned your stomach,' Jesuit coach Ken Potter remembers.

Paramedics gave Wagner morphine to stop the pain. Concerned coaches and players stood around in disbelief after the practice punt play gone bad. And everybody noticed how Wagner handled it.

'What's incredible was Dan Wagner laying there - a compound fracture, ankle bent the wrong way, extreme pain,' Potter says, 'and paramedics talked with him and everything was 'Yes, ma'am,' or 'Yes, sir.' He never cussed or raised his voice - under excruciating agony. Remarkable composure for a 17-year-old kid.'

Ironically, the accident happened two days before the 2005 season-opening game at Southridge, which the Crusaders went on to lose.

Saturday, Wagner's career comes full circle as the Crusaders, winners of 25 consecutive games since then, play the Skyhawks for the Class 6A championship at Autzen Stadium.

Wagner has been nothing short of sensational this year, despite missing an entire year of football. The 6-1, 205-pound senior completed 64.7 percent for 1,656 yards and 16 touchdowns, with only two interceptions.

The Crusaders, going with their strong offensive line and running back Paul Weatheroy, have rushed for an average of 338 yards, or the left-winged Wagner would have been relied on to do more.

He has been sacked only three times, to his recollection, and rarely got hit this season, 'and it's mainly me hanging onto the ball too long.'

It's OK with him. One major hit was enough.

Wagner probably would not have played quarterback for the 2005 Crusaders, but he would have been the punter. It all ended when teammate and friend Zach Sanchez-Vitale became Lawrence Taylor to Joe Theismann's Wagner -in a memorable NFL moment, the New York Giants' Taylor hit Theismann and the Washington QB suffered an ugly, flopping broken leg in a Monday Night Football game in 1985.

He quickly got off crutches

As Jesuit prepared for Southridge last season, the Crusaders worked on punt rush technique, with Wagner back to take the snap on that ill-fated day. He dropped the ball, and Sanchez-Vitale dove for it and slid into Wagner on somewhat wet grass, breaking the planted ankle and part of the leg.

As Wagner rolled in agony, he remembers thinking: 'Oh, this sucks. Why me?' He reached down to the leg and 'I could feel it wasn't straight.'

But Wagner, as teenagers physically can do, recovered. As he lay in the hospital, Sanchez-Vitale visited him.

'The best counseling for him was he saw Dan in the hospital, and Dan said, 'Don't worry about it, I love you as a brother,' ' Potter says. 'To be forgiven was the best therapy he needed.'

Wagner and Sanchez-Vitale, a starting linebacker, don't talk about the accident much, 'but it's something he and I share. I can always blackmail him with -oh, forgot my homework, I can call him up and he can help me out,' Wagner jokes.

Doctors put a titanium rod and a screw in his ankle and leg and Wagner started rehabilitation after only two weeks on crutches. He swam a lot to keep his wind. He recovered in time to start on the Jesuit baseball team.

In the summer, Potter penciled him in as starting quarterback, while underclassmen John Petroff and Scott Williams duked it out to be the backup. It's too bad for Wagner, in a sense, that the Crusaders had such a good running game. He could have been pretty good as the central element of Jesuit's offense, like Jon Breuer from two years ago.

'Breuer's team had some different skills and specialties,' Wagner says. 'I'm happy to give the ball to Paul. I like to watch him run.'

Neighborhood is QB central

Wagner's chief targets have been Michael Lowe (32 catches, 731 yards, 6 TDs) and Raphiel Lambert (26 catches, 387 yards, 3 TDs).

'We wanted Dan to read defenses, get us into good situations and out of bad situations,' Potter says. 'He got better and better seeing things and getting into good plays.'

Interestingly, Wagner won't be the first left-handed quarterback from the class of 2007 from the Southwest Portland Bridlemile neighborhood to play in the state championship game.

His longtime friend and ex-teammate, Connor Kavanaugh, led Lincoln to the 2005 game - the Cardinals lost to Jesuit 14-10, as Wagner watched from the sideline.

The two played in West Sylvan Youth Football at the same time and attended West Sylvan Middle School and played on the school football team. Wagner would have gone to Lincoln had his family not opted to send him to Jesuit.

Kavanaugh says he would have loved the opportunity to face Jesuit and Wagner, had Lincoln beaten Tualatin in the first round of the playoffs.

'I don't get to see him as much as I'd like,' Wagner says. 'He's always really friendly. Great guy.'

Now, Wagner has the opportunity to do what Kavanaugh could not do: Lead his undefeated team to the state championship. Of course, Wagner has a pretty good supporting cast.

'I feel very blessed to have so many great athletes and good coaches,' he says. 'It makes life easy.'

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