- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 10, 2001

Navy defensive end Michael Wagoner has learned the most about teamwork off the football field.
Already restricted by the academy and suspended indefinitely by the football team for his role in the theft of a parking meter in Baltimore, Wagoner was battling stress everywhere. He was losing weight. Then September 11 struck.
"It just seemed like things kept piling up," Wagoner said. "You don't make it anywhere on your own. It helps to have someone to talk to, to help share the burden."
Wagoner's football burden was lifted the week before the Air Force game, when he was allowed to begin practicing with the team. The senior from Wichita Falls, Texas, was just happy to be back on the field. During his suspension, Wagoner sat in the stands of Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and witnessed the worst loss in the 121 years of academy football, 70-7 to Georgia Tech.
"I felt helpless," said Wagoner, who along with 21 other seniors will play their final home game today when the Mids (0-7) play host to Tulane (2-7). "I felt terrible. I felt bad for the guys, I felt bad for the academy. I felt like I let them down. I'm just really happy that I've got a chance to come back out and give something of myself."
Quarterback Brian Madden was involved with Wagoner in the incident in Baltimore during the summer and was suspended the first two games. Wagoner had to wait three games before returning to the starting lineup against Air Force on Oct. 6. Since then, the senior has 17 tackles, including three for losses. He has helped shore up a porous defense that allowed an average of 51 points per game without him, but only 21.6 with him in the lineup. Last season Wagoner started all 11 games and recorded a team-high seven tackles for losses.
"Brian and I were talking that we never thought our senior year would begin like that," Wagoner said. "I feel so blessed to have a second chance to play this year."
Wagoner has taken advantage of his second chance, partly due to his work ethic during his time off. Wagoner did not know if he would be reinstated, but he still worked hard to remain in shape. He was not allowed to practice with the team during his suspension but lifted weights and ran conditioning drills.
"It was hard working out because I never knew if I was going to be able to play or not," he said.
Wagoner returned to the lineup at 240 pounds 20 below his normal playing weight against Air Force. The weight loss was mostly due to "stress and things on my mind," Wagoner said, but surprisingly he did not feel too many ill effects from the layoff. And not coincidentally, Navy played its first solid game of the season in a 24-18 loss to the Falcons.
"I was definitely a little behind in the scheme of the defense, but I think I gave the defense a spark," he said. "It was the first time we were one, a whole team."
Navy, which has not won a home game since 1999, will play its first game today under interim coach Rick Lantz, who took over for Charlie Weatherbie. Weatherbie was fired after losing at Toledo 21-20, and won just one of his last 18 games. Lantz previously was the defensive coordinator, and Wagoner was crucial in Lantz's schemes the past four weeks.
"I don't know if I'm back to where I was [last year]," Wagoner said. "As long as we're getting to the spots we need to be, I don't think there's an offense in the country that can put up more than 20 points [against us]."


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