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No Nebraska Scholarship for Wagner, Osborne Says

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Times Staff Writer

The puzzlement over former San Diego State tailback Darrin Wagner’s announced plans to transfer to Nebraska grew Tuesday when Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne said he will not offer Wagner a football scholarship.

“We didn’t offer him a scholarship when we looked at him out of high school a year ago,” Osborne said in a telephone interview from Nashville, Tenn., where he is attending a convention. “If we didn’t recruit him a year ago, why would we now?”

Osborne said that as of Tuesday afternoon he had not talked to Wagner. He said he did not learn of Wagner’s statements that he was transferring to Nebraska, published last weekend, until told of them Tuesday by a member of his staff.

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Wagner, The Times’ 1987 San Diego County back of the year from Lincoln High School, said Tuesday night that he still planned to fly to Lincoln, Neb., Thursday and enroll for the spring semester that begins Jan. 16.

“He should be aware that if he comes out, we do not have a scholarship for him,” Osborne said.

Darrin’s father, Norman, said he talked Tuesday night with Osborne, who told him a scholarship would not be offered to his son for the spring semester.

“If we have to pay for him to go to Nebraska, we will find a way,” Norman Wagner said. “He will come out in the spring and show them that he belongs on the team. He will earn a scholarship.”

Osborne said Wagner’s status might have been clarified earlier had SDSU not initially denied him permission to talk with Wagner. Under NCAA rules, schools must receive permission from the school of a prospective transfer before talking to the player. Osborne said he sought permission after Wagner called “in October or November” seeking a transfer but was denied in a letter he received from Denny Stolz, the former SDSU coach. That permission was granted Tuesday, Osborne said.

“If they had let me talk to him, I would have told him to finish out the year,” Osborne said. “We never encourage someone to leave school in the middle of his first semester.”

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Osborne also disputed a statement by SDSU Athletic Director Fred Miller that Wagner was “tampered” with by “a representative of Nebraska’s athletic interests.” Miller has said that the individual, whom he has declined to identify, contacted Wagner while Wagner was a member of the SDSU team and improperly influenced him to transfer to Nebraska.

Such actions could violate National Collegiate Athletic Assn. recruiting rules, endanger the athlete’s eligibility and result in penalties against the violating school.

“We have not tampered with Darrin Wagner,” Osborne said.

Osborne said SDSU’s complaints concern Ray Hooper, who was the coach at Lincoln High School when Wagner was a freshman. Hooper coached Nebraska quarterback Steve Taylor and served as Taylor’s legal guardian when Taylor played at Lincoln. The Wagners said Hooper is a family friend and that they sought his advice because he is familiar with the college recruiting process. Hooper accompanied the Wagners to a meeting with Miller and other SDSU officials in November.

Osborne said that Hooper visits Taylor several times a year and is “pretty positive about Nebraska,” but he said that Hooper does not meet the NCAA definition of what is required to be considered “a representative of a school’s athletic interests.”

NCAA rules generally define such individuals as financial contributors to a university, those who have assisted in the recruitment of athletes for a school in the past, those who have helped secure benefits for former athletes and anybody else viewed to be operating with the blessing of a university athletic department.

“Ray Hooper is not a representative of our athletic interests,” Osborne said. “He is a good friend of Steve’s, apparently a good friend of Darrin’s. But we never asked Ray to help in recruiting.”

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Hooper could not be reached for comment.

It was after Stolz denied Nebraska permission to talk with the Wagners that Hooper approached Nebraska about the possibility of Wagner transferring, said Dave Gillespie, Nebraska recruiting coordinator.

“We did not direct Ray Hooper to do anything,” Gillespie said. “Darrin’s family asked for his help.”

Osborne said that when Hooper broached the subject with him during the same time, he replied, “We can’t talk to him. We’re not interested in talking to him.”

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