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It's about family for Wagner

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Photographs by J.T. Wampler

Arkansas' Dalton Wagner Saturday April 8, 2017 during a spring scrimmage at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

— Being from a tight-knit family, Arkansas freshman offensive tackle Dalton Wagner admits missing his parents, Brad and Nancy, and siblings since enrolling at the University of Arkansas in January.

“A lot of families are close, but I always thought — and we still always think it, too — our family is special,” Wagner said. “There’s like nothing that can break us apart.”

Wagner, 6-9, 320 pounds, of Richmond-Burton High School in Richmond, Ill., signed with the Hogs over scholarship offers from Missouri, California, Virginia, Purdue, Louisville, Illinois, Vanderbilt, Indiana and others.

After two months of school, Wagner flew home during spring break in March and found an excitable mother ready to greet him at the airport.

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Arkansas offensive tackle Dalton Wagner and his mother, Nancy pose during a recruiting visit to Fayetteville. Photo courtes... + Enlarge

“I don’t think I’ll forget this the rest of my life,” Wagner said. “I’m looking around waiting outside of O’Hare [Airport in Chicago], and I see the Red Avalanche pulling up, and I see Mom’s hand outside the window waving frantically. And she jumps out of the car in the middle of a four-lane roundabout at the bottom of O’Hare International Airport. She comes sprinting across all these cars and all to give me a big ole hug.”

The Wagners' dinner table is known to feature huge steaks and impressive sides. Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema wanted to make sure the young offensive tackle didn’t go overboard during spring break.

“I remember Mom telling me the second day of spring break she got a text from Coach Bielema saying, ‘Make sure Dalton doesn’t eat too much when he’s home,'” Wagner said.

Wagner has noticed the training table at Arkansas doesn’t serve as much red meat and other foods he’s enjoyed in the past at home.

“It’s the little things you never realize that you miss like something as simple as mac and cheese and hot dogs, like where here it’s chicken,” Wagner said. “Don’t get me wrong, the food here is absolutely excellent, but it’s those little things you never think about.”

While in Fayetteville, Wagner gets a pick-me-up when he gets a chance to speak to his sister Melanie, 16, and brother Wyatt, 7.

“When I’m able to talk to them it brings a smile to their faces,” Wagner said. “That always cheers me up, too.”

His mother also sends care packages loaded with snacks.

“It’s always a little piece of home that comes down here," he said.

The benefits of enrolling early included time with strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert.

“The offseason with Coach Herb was absolutely tremendous for me,” Wagner said. “I felt like it was a big booster.”

One of the biggest adjustments from high school to college was fine-tuning his footwork.

“Like in high school, you step left, you step right, you step forward, and you usually latch on to that guy and destroy him,” said Wagner, whose older brother, Bryce, plays on the offensive line at Southern Illinois. “Here, it’s vital to have footwork. No matter who you’re going against, you have to have good footwork, or they’re going to beat you.”

The playbook was another challenge for Wagner, especially during the first part of spring practice.

“The first two practices, I didn't know the plays too well,” Wagner said. “You think you know, and then you get out there, and you suddenly freeze up.”

During the recruiting process, Wagner became close with fellow early enrollees and offensive linemen Shane Clenin and Kirby Adcock. The three are called the "Three Musketeers" around campus.

“Every time people see us, we’re always together,” Wagner said.

The three bonded instantly when they first met.

“It was like the first time we met, it was like I had known them my whole life,” Wagner said. “We’re growing so much as teammates and as friends. They’re like the best friends I have down here for the most part, and they’re my roommates.”

Wagner said other linemen like Frank Ragnow, Paul Ramirez, Colton Jackson, Hjalte Froholdt and other upperclassmen have been helpful.

“They’re just so incredible,” Wagner said. “Coming in, I knew they were a special unit, but actually when you’re in that unit, you realize how much they take care of each other. One person fails, they hold that person accountable.”

Offensive line coach Kurt Anderson has emphasized O-line pride since arriving in Fayetteville and has created a brotherhood among the linemen.

“When I was first here I was like, ‘OK, it’s O-line pride,'” Wagner said. “But now, when we say O-line pride in that room, when we break it down, it’s something more than that because you’re with your brothers out there.”

Wagner has no regrets about forgoing his last semester of high school and enrolling early at Arkansas.

“This is probably one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life so far, committing to be a Razorback and enrolling early,” Wagner said. “You get such of a benefit out of this. Especially this early jump on the play book and get these plays in my head and Coach Herb and how much we’ve improved physically and mentally. It’s the best decision I’ve made, hands-down.”

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