It has been a long ride through college for center/guard Dan Wenger, who spent five years with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish before receiving a waiver to spend his sixth year of college playing football for the Florida Gators.
Wenger, who suffered a pair of concussions that forced him to miss what would have been his redshirt senior season and was not cleared to play for Notre Dame this past year, was cleared by Florida doctors and joined former coaches Charlie Weis and Frank Verducci on the Gators.
With Florida badly in need of healthy bodies on the offensive line and both Weis and Verducci vouching for him after his concussion tests came back clean, head coach Will Muschamp granted Wenger a spot on the Gators for 2011.
He wound up starting 11 of 13 games for Florida (including 10 at left guard and one at center) while also serving as a mentor and leader for a young unit trying to learn Weis’s complicated pro-style offense.
His sights now set on the NFL, Wenger sat down with me for a pair of interviews before and after he participated in the Battle or Florida showcase in Boca Raton, FL. We discussed his time playing for Florida, his thoughts about the Gators program and what he hopes to accomplish in the future.
ADAM SILVERSTIEN: The way you came into the program was unique. Not only did you join a very young unit, but you happened to be the most experienced player based on the years you spent in the system at Notre Dame. As it turned out, your teammates looked to you in many ways as a leader and a teacher even though you were one of the team’s newest players. How strange was that situation for you?
DAN WENGER: “Yeah. It wasn’t necessarily uncomfortable, but it was something that I didn’t expect. I didn’t expect the guys would respond so well to me. The reason for that is you see guys transfer most of the time and for a lot of guys it’s a tough transition, whether it be guys on the team worried about this new kid taking their position or just not fitting into the new environment and trying to figure out how everything goes. I kind of thought that’s how it was going to be when I got there. Surprisingly enough it wasn’t; the guys responded well. As we did our player practices in the summer, I definitely saw kind of the lack of knowledge, the lack of understanding of what we were going to do with the new offense. Being my last go-around, I bought into everything and said whatever happens, that’s what my role is going to be. I’m going to do my best, starter or scout team, to help these guys understand this so we’re all on the same page to help us be as good as we possibly can be. Those guys responded great to it. I helped with film in the summer and explaining stuff in practice like some of the drills. I did whatever I could so these guys had a really good comfort level going into the season so we weren’t picking up any slack and actually made progress from where they had left off in the spring. That was my whole goal of trying to come in and teach and be a little bit of a coach to those kids.”
AS: For someone stepping into the program for a relatively short period of time who has worked with other head coaches and “been around the block” so to speak, what did you think of Muschamp’s style, the way he ran things in his first season and what he’s trying to do at Florida?
DW: “In my honest opinion, I couldn’t have been happier to have played for a head coach like Coach Muschamp. He was exactly what I want in a head coach. He’s a blue collar guy. He’s hard-nosed. He expects a lot out of his players, expects us to work hard. There’s a genuine caring for his players. You can tell that. It was just an awesome experience to play for him. In all honesty, I loved my time at Florida. I loved playing for Coach Muschamp and being a part of the Florida Gators. It was probably one of the best things – if not the best thing – that could have happened to me in my college experience.”
Photo Credit: Associated Press