By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA - USF men's tennis wants to rise to elite status and the Bulls have a new assistant coach that knows a lot about what it takes to get to the top.
New head coach Matt Hill is excited about adding Brandon Wagner to his staff for the beginning of what both hope is a memorable run with the Bulls.
Wagner, 31, knows quite a bit about winning at the collegiate level. The former All-American helped Georgia win two SEC titles (2001-02) and a national championship in 2001. The Bulldogs made a return trip to the national championship finals in 2002 before Wagner was selected to the USTA professional rookie team later that year.
"He played at the highest level of tennis. He won national championships and he went on to play on the tour. He's coached at all the different levels. He's really done it all," Hill said.
Wagner returned to Georgia as a volunteer assistant coach from 2003-04 and later coached a number of pro tennis players. He helped John Isner get into the ATP's top 80 for the first time and has guided others to numerous pro challenger titles in the U.S. and Europe.
Prior to becoming a Bull, Wagner was looking to get back into college tennis and said part of the reason USF was so appealing was the athletic department's vision of excellence.
"Looking at the university, there is a big push from the athletic department to make tennis and all the programs as a whole compete with the best," he said. "It's nice to see that they want to strive and shoot for that."
Wagner is the second member of his family to become a part of USF athletics after his brother, Brett, played for the men's soccer team.
"I'm really excited to be a part of the USF family, and make a difference on the program and in the community," he said.
Wagner has jumped right into his role with the Bulls, assisting with the training of players on top of getting the recruitment process going.
"That's what it takes to be top five in the country. You need some of those stellar players," he said.
Hill knows Wagner will be a valuable asset in the pursuit of top-notch players because of his extensive background and his ability to relate well with young talent on the rise. Wagner is a former 18-and-under Florida state champion (1999) and has helped multiple elite level junior players win titles on a national level.
"What our program is built around is exactly what this guy did," Hill said. "For him to be able to sit down with a recruit and say, 'Hey, you can go to college and train to be a professional. You can go onto the tour after that, I did that.' I think it gives a lot of credibility to what we're about and what we're trying to do here."
Wagner's addition also helps ensure the Bulls will be in the shape it takes to compete at the highest level. He is a certified sports nutritionist and has worked with his two brothers in the family's business, Wagner Healthcare.
"Nutrition is a huge part of us being successful," Hill said. "We need every area we can touch on to get us into the top five in the country and compete for a national championship."
Hill reiterated that all of Wagner's expertise and skills help USF gain credibility in its climb toward the top.
"We wanted to get him on board. That's for sure," Hill said.