When Lake Zurich’s Colton Wagner hurt his left knee while covering a kickoff in Week 8 of his junior football season, he had two predominant thoughts.
“It was probably one of the most painful things I’ve ever experienced,” said Wagner, now a senior. “I remember also thinking that there goes baseball season.”
Sure enough, Wagner, a catcher, missed virtually the entire baseball season.
“It was tough being on the outside and seeing how much fun the guys were having,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you don’t know how much it means to you until you can’t do it.”
Once he was cleared to play, he focused on making up for lost time. He had success in travel ball and American Legion and quickly impressed new Lake Zurich coach Chuck Gandolfi.
“His physical skills are real obvious,” Gandolfi said. “He has the capabilities to be a solid catcher for us and [in college].”
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Wagner had a difficult decision to make this summer. Should he play football as a senior and risk getting injured, which would be a major setback in his goal of playing college baseball?
He was torn until he had the chance to watch his highlight tape from his junior season.
“A couple of plays really brought back some good memories, and I couldn’t pass it up,” he said. “I knew that I would regret it if I didn’t play.”
Wagner started at inside linebacker for a Lake Zurich team that advanced to the Class 7A state championship game, where it lost 30-0 to Mount Carmel. He also played a key role at tight end and caught a pair of touchdown passes.
Now, his receiving duties are directed toward the Lake Zurich pitching staff.
“It’s huge having him back there because he’s great at blocking the ball and making stops in key situations,” senior pitcher Nick Aiello said. “He also has a great throwing arm on steal attempts.”
The Bears have played .500 baseball for their first six games. On the team’s spring break trip to St. Louis, Wagner hit two triples in the same inning. He also hit his first varsity home run.
“Off the bat I thought it might have a chance,” he said. “When I rounded first base I looked up and it was over the fence. At first, I wasn’t sure if it was a ground-rule double or a home run. It was a special feeling running the bases.”
Added Aiello, “He’s always been a big power hitter and will be a key part of our offense.”
Gandolfi said Wagner leads by example each day.
“He’s one of the first kids to practice and one of the last to leave,” Gandolfi said. “He does the right things all the time.”