Sunday, October 13, 2013

Record-breaking Husky would trade achievements for wins

It was a day when Cole Wagner forever etched his name into the UConn record books but even as he was becoming the all-time leader in punting yards at UConn Wagner was in no mood for celebrating.

Wagner moved by Adam Coles to set the program record for most career punting yards and his seventh and final punt in Saturday's 13-10 loss to South Florida matched Coles' mark for career punts. Still, the Huskies are 0-5 with a pair of challenging road games coming up the next two weeks.

"I have loved every play here. I was lucky enough to start as a freshman and have a four-year career," Wagner said. "The records are great but I look back and think ‘man, I wish I could have had some more wins.’ Freshman year we peaked, reaching the Fiesta Bowl and haven’t been to a bowl game since and it has been frustrating. We have the players to do it and we all know it. We keep saying we should have done this, we should have won that game but we just have to start winning and we are running out of opportunities. The seniors, we have seven games left in our career and we definitely don’t want to keep throwing it down the tube."

Wagner had some issues getting the hang time and distance on the punts earlier this season. He averaged less than 40 yards per punt in each of the first three games of the season and the streak dates back to the 2012 regular-season finale. Wagner had not gone more than two consecutive games with a punting average under 40 and he worked diligently to get back to punting the ball as well as he did during preseason camp. He began to strike the ball better in the loss to Buffalo setting the stage for one of the best games of his collegiate career. Wagner had a career-high six punts inside the 20.

"I am hitting the ball with confidence which is the most important thing," Wagner said. "I went back, I was hitting the ball really well in camp and I went back to watch what I was doing there. I was just getting the ball too far out in front of me so I was getting the ball back into my sweet spot, swinging easier. It is just confidence, I hadn’t hit the ball well at practice. I hit the ball well in warmups, I hit the ball well in practice and hit the ball well in games."

The first six times Wagner punted the ball South Florida was pinned inside the 15 yard line. He had punts down on the 2 and 3 and three other times the result was a fair catch. The only two times the Bulls got a return a punt by Wagner they managed a total of six yards. Freshman Noel Thomas made the highlights for downing both punts inside the five.

"That is the biggest play we can have and the biggest play we can do for our team," Wagner said. "I tell them when I am around them, don’t he is the left gunner and my pooch (punt) is always coming left. I tell him it is coming, he has done a nice job of getting down there and making the plays. We had some that got away from us that we had the ball there but we didn’t make the plays."

Already owning the UConn record with 11,051 punting yards (Coles had 10,904 yards from 2000-03) and sharing the school mark with 271 punts, he has a chance at another mark. California's Nick Harris set the FBS record with 322 career punts from 1997-2000 meaning that Wagner would have to average 7.3 punts a game the rest of the way. Of course that is one record I am sure Wagner could do without because it would be a reflection on how much the Huskies offense has struggled over the last four seasons. For those wondering, Cal had four straight losing seasons and a 15-29 record while Harris was the punter.



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