Created:Thursday, February 6, 2014 7:41 p.m.CDT
Updated:Friday, February 7, 2014 12:06 p.m.CDT
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R-B's Bryce Wagner showed enough improvement to go D-I

Bryce Wagner’s size alone – 6-foot-7 and 335 pounds – was going to grab the attention of college football coaches.

But it was the on-field improvement the Richmond-Burton offensive tackle made from his junior to senior season that elevated him from a lower-level college prospect to NCAA Division I.

“My senior year, I knew I could be an all-stater and an all-conference guy. I had to go out and get it,” Wagner said. “I worked my butt off in the weightroom and did everything I could to be a better football player. My one goal after high school was to move on to the next level. I was a much better football player from junior year to senior year, which helps with recruiting too.”

Wagner signed his National Letter of Intent on Wednesday with Southern Illinois, which plays in the FCS. His final two choices were SIU and Northern Iowa. When he visited SIU in Carbondale, he knew he had found the spot.

“One thing I loved is their goal is to win [an FCS] national championship,” Wagner said. “That’s what they’re building toward. I’ll be redshirted my freshman year and learn the ropes and strength train. I feel like I’m a great fit there. I’m ready to go.”

Wagner will leave for Carbondale in June and enroll in summer classes so he can train with other players. He also plans on playing for the East in the Illinois Coaches Association All-Star Shrine Game on July 12 at Illinois Wesleyan’s Tucci Stadium in Bloomington.

Wagner was a Northwest Herald All-Area second-team selection and an Illinois High School Football Coaches Association Class 4A All-State selection.

“At our banquet, my comment was his best football’s ahead of him,” R-B coach Pat Elder said. “From his junior to senior year his progression, as far as movement and physicality in play, and everything else was really impressive. He’s young in his class, he could be a junior. So he can mature a lot physically still.”

Elder said Wagner grew 2 inches between his junior and senior years.

“It’s a great opportunity for [Wagner],” Elder said. “He has things you can’t teach with his size, combined with the fact that he played very, very well.”

Wagner thanked Elder and his entire staff, naming every assistant coach, for helping him develop in his four years at R-B.

“I’m ever so grateful to have them as coaches,” Wagner said. “They got me in the right direction and I’m happy to be a Saluki. They’ve been supportive of me my whole four years.”

Nirva to Saint Joseph’s: Prairie Ridge defensive end Austin Nirva (6-0, 210) signed with D-II Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind., on Wednesday. Nirva was a third-year starter for the Wolves, who finished 7-5 and advanced to the Class 6A playoff quarterfinals.

Nirva’s recruitment to the Pumas had a little different twist than most players. His sister, Sam, is a junior at Saint Joseph’s and competes in track and field’s heptathlon.

“She loves it there and said their coaching staff’s amazing and their players are cool, they’re nice people,” Nirva said. “I can spend some time with her there.”

Nirva may be small for an end, but he has his eyes on a hybrid linebacker-end position that Saint Joseph’s utilizes. Nirva, offensive tackle Shane Evans and linebacker Collin Leverenz all started as sophomores on Prairie Ridge’s 2011 Class 6A state championship team.

“I’ve always loved football, played it all my life and really got into it,” Nirva said.