There’s no need to sell Vernon Adams on why his Montana nemesis has been named Big Sky Conference preseason defensive MVP.
“He’s quick and he’s strong and that’s what makes him so good,” the Eastern Washington quarterback said of Griz defensive end Zack Wagenmann. “He can just make a decision whether he wants to bull you or get past you real quick and start chasing the quarterback down.
“That’s where I need to be quicker with my reads because I never know what will happen. We’re going to have to double-team that guy. He sacked me twice in the game last year I think.”
As Big Sky preseason offensive MVP, Adams is no slouch himself. That doesn’t mean he wants to tangle with Montana’s No. 37, who is being touted as a bona fide NFL prospect.
“I don’t want him to get to me,” Adams said with a chuckle at Monday’s Big Sky Summer Kickoff event. “He’s just a great player.”
Wagenmann is the second Missoula-raised Grizzly in as many years to earn the Big Sky’s preseason defensive MVP honor. Last year linebacker Jordan Tripp was recognized and in the spring he was drafted by the Miami Dolphins.
Wagenmann is excited about the recognition but knows that he and his defensive teammates will be judged by their efforts on the field come late August. Montana lost a majority of its defensive starters to graduation, including Tripp and fellow linebacker Brock Coyle, who is on the Seattle Seahawks’ roster.
“The biggest concerns people have is that we lost our three starting linebackers from last year,” Wagenmann noted. “But I’m really excited to see how the young guys come into camp. Judging on what they did during the spring and what they have been doing during the summer, I’m really excited.
“We have guys that can run really well, some guys who really like to play football. Our defense is going to surprise some people.”
Wagenmann ranks eighth in career sacks at UM with 20 and is tied for ninth in career tackles for loss with 29.5. Last season he was ranked among the Big Sky leaders in sacks (third with 8.5) and tackles for loss (tied for third with 16.5). He was ranked 27th in the FCS in tackles for loss, averaging 1.3 per game.
Recently the Griz co-captain was one of 20 elite FCS defensive players named to the Buck Buchanan Award watch list by The Sports Network.
“When I came in (to UM) I think I was 205, 210, and I was pretty green,” Wagenmann said. “I didn’t start playing football until my junior year (at Missoula Sentinel); so I definitely had a big learning curve when I came here to play for the Griz and to get to the point where I am now physically to play my position on the defensive line.
“I am weighing around 250, 255 now, and it’s definitely taken me a long time to get to where I am at, but I think I am headed in the right direction.”
Beyond the statistics, durability has been a strength for Wagenmann. He has played in 38 straight games and will start for the third season in a row.
“There’s always something you can improve on,” he said. “One of my biggest focuses this offseason has actually been strengthening, doing the small things to make sure I can last another season as far as keeping my shoulders healthy, my knees and hips healthy.
“Then you can never get enough film work, trying to learn more about the game.”
Wagenmann and the new-look Griz defense will make their first home appearance on Sept. 6 against Central Washington.