Former CSUN Punter Signs With Cowboys

Times Staff Writer

Bryan Wagner, the leading punter in Cal State Northridge history and fourth-best in NCAA Division II, sweated through all 10 rounds of Tuesday's NFL draft and came up empty-handed.

No calls. No interest.

The next 24 hours had a different ring. The phone didn't stop as four pro teams contacted Wagner and one, the Dallas Cowboys, wound up signing him to a free-agent contract, a three-year, non-guaranteed deal.

"I feel real good," Wagner said by phone from his Las Vegas home. "This is the team I think I have the best chance to make. If you go in the last few rounds, you don't get a choice. I might have been picked by a team back East and maybe I didn't want to go back East. I got a real good deal."

Wagner said the Cowboys told him Coach Tom Landry does not want quarterback Danny White punting this year and is looking for a replacement.

Cowboy Vice President Gil Brandt said he was "surprised he (Wagner) didn't go in the draft because we expected him to be drafted. Coach Landry has said for the last two years that he wants to have a kicker he can have for the next 10 to 12 years. Ideally, he wants a young kicker who can come to camp and compete for the job. Bryan has a great opportunity ahead of him."

The three teams Wagner booted out of his future plans were the Rams, San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots.

"I talked to the Rams," Wagner said, "but I saw they drafted a punter (Clemson's Dale Hatcher in the third round) and I wanted to go somewhere where I am wanted."

The Baltimore Stars of the USFL wanted Wagner about a month ago, but he and his agent, Steve Arnold, deliberately inflated demands that included a large signing bonus and the chance to be free for the NFL at the end of the USFL's spring season. They figured, Wagner said, if their demands were satisfied, fine. If not, no harm, no foul.

It turned out to be: no harm, no foul, no more calls from Baltimore.

So Wagner, who had left Northridge prior to the spring semester, continued to live and work out with his kicking coach, Brad Hoffman, a Las Vegas resident.

It was Hoffman who coached Wagner during his highly productive Matador career that included All-American honors for three seasons and career records for punts (203), career yardage (8,762) and average (43.4). He punted 73 times in 1983 and averaged 43.7 yards, a school record.

Wagner also did the place-kicking for Northridge. He hit 25 of 41 field-goal attempts, 62 of 65 PATs and, last year, connected from 54 yards against Northern Arizona.

He's got plenty of kicking ahead. He will continue to work out five days a week in Las Vegas until a Cowboy mini camp that will run in Dallas on May 15-18. After that, it's rookie camp at the Cowboys' training headquarters at Cal Lutheran College starting July 14th. If he makes it there, it will be truly ironic. Wagner left Cal Lutheran after his freshman year because he didn't get a chance to kick.

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