Stillwater football players hit the practice field recently wearing white jerseys with red lettering. Along with the helmet and pads, the player in jersey No. 29 wore something else, too: an insulin pump.
“Kind of like to show it off because I’m the only guy that has one,” senior co-captain Stephen Wagner said with a smile.
Wagner, a 5-10, 190-pound running back, free safety and kick returner, found out he had diabetes in third grade, the same year he started playing football. But he hasn’t let it get in the way of athletics. After all, he rushed for 395 yards and three touchdowns in the first four games this season.
“At first it was kind of hard, but now it’s routine,” Wagner said. “In practice and other times, I don’t usually notice it.
“It hasn’t affected me to the point where I couldn’t play because of it.”
His routine is slightly different than his teammates’ because of the diabetes. He wears his insulin pump during practice but not games. A lot of prep goes into his pregame routine, as he needs to track what he eats for his insulin levels. He checks his sugar levels at halftime. When his blood sugar is in the desired range, he doesn’t notice his diabetes. If the levels get out of range, that’s when he feels the effects in his concentration and energy level.
Diabetes isn’t the only health issue he’s dealt with. Last year he broke his foot in the fifth game of the season. For someone who loves the competitiveness of football, sitting out was tough.
“I missed it,” Wagner said.
In his return this season, Wagner averaged 98.8 rushing yards per game through the first four games. In a 17-7 victory over Roseville, he rushed for 119 yards and added another 23 with two receptions.
But Wagner really doesn’t take credit for all those yards he’s racked up.
“Ninety-five percent of it is because of the offensive linemen,” he said. “When they block good, it’s easy.
“The other five’s just hitting the hole.”
Wagner doesn’t set personal goals for this season — it’s all about the team. Winning the homecoming game and going past the second playoff game are the main team goals he has in mind. Basically, just winning games is always the goal.
Teammate and co-captain Tanner Lau attests to Wagner’s impressive skill. Wagner is one of the top guys on the team in the weight room, Lau said. With all that strength, it’s led to some good-natured ribbing about what’s in Wagner’s insulin pump.
“We make jokes sometimes that he’s actually pumping steroids through the thing,” Lau said with a laugh. “He’s not, by the way.”
Diabetes aside, Lau describes Wagner as a good leader, amazing kid and someone who brings “a ton of enthusiasm.” They’ve seen other kids drop out of athletics because of diabetes. Not Wagner.
“He never wanted to use that as an excuse,” Lau said. “He’s a good athlete. Never let the diabetes get in the way.”
Wagner is a strong, fast and explosive athlete, according to coach Beau LaBore, and he’s dedicated himself to conditioning the past four years to maximize his performance. If Wagner didn’t have the pump or occasionally check his levels, you wouldn’t even know he’s diabetic, LaBore said.
“It is part of his daily life, but for the most part, he’s just like any other young man who just wants to work out, play and be a member of the team,” LaBore said.