WADSWORTH — When a former Division I national champion comes calling, it’s best to listen.
After a fantastic career on the Wadsworth boys soccer team, Kai Wagner had his choice of schools but will head to Akron in the fall as a preferred walk-on.
The midfielder selected the Zips over Notre Dame College, Ashland, Mount Union and Slippery Rock.
“Akron is truly a once-in-a-lifetime chance,” Wagner said Thursday. “It’s something that I couldn’t pass up. I’ve always dreamed of playing at Akron and getting to the next level.
“To play for a team with such a successful history and such a hopeful future means everything. All the work I’ve put in has led up to this decision, and I am more than excited that such a high-level program has invested in me.”
The 2010 national champion Zips have long been a successful program but have taken the next step under coach Jared Embick. Embick, who last week signed a contract extension through 2022, has led Akron to a 94-30-13 mark in his six seasons.
The Zips have made the NCAA Tournament every season and reached the College Cup or national semifinal three of the last four seasons. In each of those seasons, Akron has won either the Mid-American Conference regular-season or postseason tournament.
Last fall, the Zips went 15-7-2 and knocked off top-seeded Wake Forest and three-time defending champion Stanford before falling 1-0 to Maryland in the national championship.
It’s for that reason that Wagner isn’t taking his chance lightly as he preps to join the national powerhouse.
“In my mind, after getting the offer from Akron, I couldn’t turn it down,” he said. “I knew if any program could maximize my play, it would be Akron. Playing alongside the best players in the country at the college level is what I’ve always dreamed of. Now that I’ve made the team, I want to become one of the best players.”
Wagner was a Midwest Region selection, first-team All-Ohioan and two-time All-Gazette pick at Wadsworth. He had 15 goals and seven assists (37 points) last season and 26 goals and 20 assists for his career.
Wagner will head to Akron with Skye Harter (Copley), Colin Biros (Massillon Jackson), Diogo Pacheco, Sam Tojaga, Faisal Ghaffur, Christian Lue Young and Dennis Cole all returning with game experience for the Zips. Biros and Tojaga were named to the TopDrawerSoccer.com Freshmen Top 100 list, with Biros picking up second-team all-freshmen honors.
Cracking a lineup like that is daunting to say the least, but Wagner is up for the challenge.
“As a player, I’m hard-working and I will always be able to push myself to be better,” he said. “As a student, I’m dedicated with a 4.0 grade-point average and 30 on the ACT. I use this to improve my game tactically.”