Padecky: SRJC’s Wagner knows ‘help’ is always on the way

SRJC football coach Lenny Wagner never knows who he might find waiting at his office door. (Conner Jay / The Press Democrat)

SRJC football coach Lenny Wagner never knows who he might find waiting at his office door. (Conner Jay / The Press Democrat)


They come daily to Lenny Wagner, either through email or a knock on his office door at SRJC. They come bearing gifts — themselves. They can run like a deer fleeing for its life or they can catch a butterfly blindfolded or they hit you so hard you start praying for your momma. They are so good, so determined, you wonder how the University of Alabama missed them. So, certainly, obviously, they can play for a junior college.

Over the past few months SRJC’s head football coach guessed he has received queries or outright you-gotta-have-me from about 500 high school graduates. Maybe more, he thinks, it happens so frequently. Every day they come to him, from everywhere in the United States. From Florida, Michigan, Maryland, Washington, Missouri, Colorado, Tennessee, Alabama, Arizona, places so far away you can even assume they might not know that Santa Rosa is in California.

Which is the assumption with this email: It began “Watch the Beast,” followed by a web address. That was it, that was the entire email. No greeting. Nothing like “I’ve heard about your program.” No identifying words, like, um, a name. What position does he play? What state did he play in? Nada, Zip. This one had “Dear Occupant” written all over it. Wagner might have watched The Beast video if he was led to believe he was looking for Big Foot.

Another player set Wagner an email that was a web address link. That was the entire email. Didn’t even tell Wagner to Watch The Beast. Or Watch A Movie. Or Go Eat A Hamburger.

On the flip side, a kid from the Central Valley sent a 340-word email that included everything except his favorite color.

“I work at home from 4-7:30 a.m. on my laptop,” Wagner said. “I do all the stuff I need to do that day. So when I get to the office I’m ready to get derailed. And I will get derailed. Every day. Guaranteed.”

The diligent sort that he is, Wagner doesn’t blow off a sincere, thoughtful entreaty, offered with some maturity. This is a public junior college, for criminey sakes. Anyone who is registered in school and wants to play for the Bear Cubs is eligible.

Certainly the herd thins out when two-a-days begin. Nonetheless Wagner keeps an open mind. He never knows who is going to find at his door.

Like Raevon Smith. A few weeks ago, there was a knock on Wagner’s door and there stood Smith and his uncle. Smith was visiting his uncle on a trip from North Carolina.

At 6 feet, 190 pounds, Smith said he wanted to relocate from North Carolina and move to Santa Rosa to stay with his uncle. He told Wagner he could play and here’s where you can view the highlight film and Wagner nodded politely. Anyone who takes time to physically show up immediately gets a respect upgrade from Wagner.

“Later on that day,” Wagner said, “I click on the video. Oh my gosh. Wow. This kid is really good. He gave me his cell number and I got right back on the phone to him.”

On another day Wagner got another knock on his office door. From Issaquah, Wash., Austin Owen was driving back from Mendocino College, sure he was going to play there, when he saw the SRJC campus road sign off the 101. Shoot, why not stop, Owen thought. What do I have to lose? He met with Wagner, got a tour of the campus.

Wagner did some checking. At 5-foot-11, 245 pounds, Owen is a player.

This fall Owen most likely will start on the defensive line. Smith most likely will start at cornerback.

“For us to be a championship team,” Wagner said, “I want every kid from Sonoma County and maybe three or four from outside the area. That’s it.”

In the summer, every day is like Christmas for Wagner. He never knows what’s going to come to him from cyberspace. Always up for a good laugh, Wagner takes everything with a grain of salt, for he knows every email he receives comes with a certain amount of sincerity.

It’s just that, well, maybe, Mom or Dad could have gone over the email before their son sent it.

“I didn’t play due to roster size … Today as you look at my school with a before & after approach … I still have four years of eligibility (one can only play two years at a junior college) … I want to introduce myself in addition to exposing you to me … I am coming to your team as an athlete I have to true position …. it doesn’t matter the location or size of the school. I’m open to play anywhere … Favorite color is red and favorite player is Ray Rice … I chose to turn down the (Division III) offers knowing my ability is of Division I caliber … I’m not begging or trying to make anyone feel sorry for me … How you doing Coach? … Most people compare me to Former Wisconsin RB Ron Dayne … I can guarantee you don’t have a running back on you roster stronger than me or more passionate than I am.”

And the winner for The Best Unedited email, Written Too Fast, is …

“I’ve heard a lot for good things about Sierra College.”

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or

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