BOCA RATON – FAU defensive end Ernest Bagner didn’t expect the jump from junior college to Division I to be so big.
“It’s a lot different from a JUCO,” Bagner said of his first week at FAU. “I thought I’d come in here and be the man but it’s a totally different level. It’s a lot faster than I expected. I need to step up and get with the pace.”
FAU signed Bagner out of Riverside City College with hopes he could provide some of the pass rushing punch the Owls lost when career sack leader Trey Hendrickson graduated, moving on to the NFL’s New Orleans Saints.
Six of Bagner’s 29 tackles last season were sacks.
Thus far, however, Bagner hasn’t received starters repetitions in practice, spending much of his time alternating with second teamers.
“It’s humbling,” Bagner said. “It makes you want to work hard. It makes me want to focus on my skills so I can stand out.”
Nick Internicola and Haiden Nagel, both members of FAU’s two-deep last season, spent the first week of FAU camp working with the first team. On Thursday Hunter Snyder and Leighton McCarthy provided the outside rush for the second team with FAU worked on obvious passing situations.
Fellow junior college transfer Tim Bonner, one of the stars of the latest season of Last Chance U, also spent the first week lower on the depth chart than many expected.
“We talk about it together because we are going through the same thing,” Bagner said.
Banger and Bonner are both officially listed at 225 pounds on FAU’s roster, but Bagner appears to be the bulkier of the duo. Both noted that acclimating to the pace of play at FAU is one of the biggest hurdles they have to overcome.
As camp progresses Bagner says he’s getting a better grasp on the playbook – something that should also afford the opportunity for more snaps.
“Knowing my assignment is becoming easier but we still have to react to what the offense is doing and that part I still need to improve on,” Bagner said.
Bagner and Bonner spent the month leading up to the start of fall camp on campus and participating in strength and conditioning coach Wilson Love’s lauded conditioning program, but veterans who were with the program last season have a six month head start on the duo.
FAU intends to frequently rotate its defensive ends throughout games this season, so Bagner and Bonner remain likely to see some playing time in early season games even if they haven’t permanently cracked the two-deep.
Still, the top of the depth chart remains Bagner’s goal, and with nearly a full month until the opening kickoff, there’s plenty of time to get there.
“I came to be a starter,” Bagner said. “That’s motivating me to get better and get with that No. 1 group.”