Curtis Butts might have been the first San Diego State football player to sense something was amiss with Darrin Wagner. But three days after Wagner moved out of the off-campus apartment they shared without warning, he still does not know what went wrong with his now suspended teammate.
"I have bitter feelings," Butts said. "I am confused. As a friend, I thought he would leave a message, at least a note."
All Butts knows is that he has not seen or heard from Wagner, the Aztecs' leading rusher and scorer, since he left their apartment Friday afternoon. When Butts returned Saturday night after rushing for 163 yards in the Aztecs' 45-28 victory over New Mexico, Wagner and his possessions were gone.
And so is Wagner, at least for the rest of the season. That is the news the Aztecs officially heard Monday from Coach Al Luginbill. Their reaction to Wagner's suspension for missing practice last week was one of resignation more than surprise. Many said they saw it coming. Wagner had run afoul of team rules before; some suspected it was only a matter of time until Luginbill would take strong action.
"It was going to happen sooner or later," senior defensive tackle Milt Wilson said. "The only question was when. The coaches gave him plenty of chances, far too many chances."
Wagner's latest troubles began early last week after he was excused from practice because of the flu. But when he failed to attend practice Thursday or notify the staff of the reason for his absence, Luginbill said he had no choice but to suspended him for the final three games. Luginbill said he has not spoken with Wagner about his action but has been told by team members that Wagner attended classes Monday.
Wagner gained 721 yards on 134 carries and scored 11 touchdowns in six games. Replacing him will not be easy.
"Darrin is and was a great football player," senior wide receiver Monty Gilbreath said. "He is going to be missed. Darrin can do some things I haven't seen a freshman running back do in a long time."
Few will benefit more from Wagner's absence than Butts, a sophomore walk-on who had been the No. 3 running back behind Ron Slack and Wagner. But the experience leaves him with mixed feelings. He might have gained playing time, but he said he lost a roommate and someone he considered a friend.
Still, he wonders if in the five months he shared an apartment with Wagner, he really got to know him.
"Darrin was moody," Butts said. "One day he would talk to you, then he would go four or five days and just go on his own. He was very quite. He didn't smile too much. He didn't express too many feelings."
Butts said about the only time he saw Wagner react was to laugh at a joke, but the joke had to be extremely funny.
"Eddie Murphy had to be on TV for him to laugh," Butts said.
The loss of Wagner comes at a time when the Aztecs enter Saturday night's game against Wyoming having won four in a row for the first time in three seasons. But Butts said he does not believe the loss of Wagner will end the Aztecs' chances of a strong finish. He pointed out the Aztecs beat New Mexico without Wagner and won an earlier game against Cal State Long Beach when Wagner was suspended for the game for missing practices.
"Darrin is a great running back, and he contributed to the team a lot," Butts said. "But it is not a question of can we win without him because we have. We have that confidence."