Not-so-old Vol John Wagster dead at 71

Marvin Westwestwords

John Wagster, a tough Tennessee tackle who fought in the defensive trenches for Bill Battle’s first three teams, has died of aplastic anemia at 71.


“Wags was a good football player with a great sense of humor,” said the former coach. “Too many of our guys are passing too soon.”

Battle is 80.

John Wagster

Much like the coach, the player combined football excellence and exceptional intelligence. Wagster was a three-year starter who earned all-Southeastern Conference honors in 1972, his senior season. He went on to Texas A&M for a doctorate in finance and was a teacher and researcher for 29 years at Wright State University in Detroit.

A celebration of a life well lived is planned for June 28 at First United Methodist Church in Royal Oak, Mich. Visitation will begin at 10 a.m., a religious service at 11 and a fellowship lunch thereafter.

Wagster is survived by his wife of 48 years, Phyllis Goff Wagster, brother Steve of Dayton, Texas, and sister Marilyn of Reisterstown, Maryland.

John was born in Union City, Tennessee, grew up in Campbellsville, Kentucky, and was honored in that high school’s inaugural hall of fame.

He played on some good teams at Tennessee – 11-1 and the Sugar Bowl, 10-2 and the Liberty Bowl and 10-2 and the Bluebonnet.

Wagster had some famous teammates, Chip Kell, Jackie Walker, Bobby Majors, Jamie Rotella, Tim Priest, Conrad Graham, Curt Watson, Ray Nettles, Art Reynolds, Eddie Wilson, Bill Emendorfer, Condredge Holloway and a dozen or three others.

John Wagster

Wagster played in 33 games and spent a lot of time around the football. He was involved in 277 tackles, an unusually high number for an interior lineman.

Tim Priest, prominent safety of that era, credits Wagster with helping set the 1970 record for interceptions.

“There was pre-season talk that the defense wouldn’t be very good because so many sophomores were playing up front. Four were in the rotation as tackles. They applied so much pressure on quarterbacks that a lot of balls were thrown to us.”

The Vols set a record with 36 interceptions.

Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com

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