Kayleb Wagner took the first handoff of the game, saw a hole in the defense, and in a flash, he was gone, taking the ball all the way to the end zone for an 83-yard touchdown. This was just one of his six touchdowns en route to a 49-48 victory in which Wagner rushed for an astounding 535 yards, breaking the Florida State single-game rushing record set by Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry in 2012. Wagner broke the record with just 25 carries, 20 less than Henry’s 45. What makes this record even more incredible is that Wagner broke it with just the use of one hand.
Wagner was born with Amniotic Band Syndrome, a condition where the umbilical cord gets wrapped around a limb of a developing fetus causing it to be underdeveloped. Yet, from a young age, Wagner refused to let his condition stop him. When his cousins decided to sign up for football, Wagner, then age six, was right there to sign up with them. He began his career at center, but now, at six-foot-one, 205lb Wagner has found a home on both offense and defense playing Cornerback and Running Back for Baker High School.
Wagner attributes his early success to the mindset his mother instilled in him when he was young, telling him he could do anything any other kid could do. Whether it be in the weight room, on the basketball court, or on the football field, Wagner has figured out a way to adapt and compete at the highest level possible.
“When I couldn’t really do something I figured a way around how to do it….I don’t find a way not to do it, I find a way how to do something,” he told Greater Than The Game.
In the weight room, for example, he uses bands to help him with rows and triceps. Wagner can move some serious weight maxing out his power clean and squat at a killer 330 and 530 Lbs.
Wagner’s work in the weight room has paid off dividends on the field: in 2021, he built on a strong sophomore campaign where he helped his team reach an undefeated season and claim a state title. Then, in the Championship game, Wagner led his team with 152 yards, bringing his total rushing yards on the year to over 1400 and earning him the game’s MVP.
This year, he continued his strong play and rushed for over 1,900 yards on the season. Check out some of his highlights below.
A Greater Impact
After breaking Derrick Henry’s record, Wagner and the small community of Baker, Florida started to garner national attention with features on local and national news outlets like ESPN and Overtime. Wagner hopes that as more people become aware of his success on the field, it will bring his teammates more recognition as well.
“The O-linemen are a very big key. Without them, I’m not doing anything close to what I did. The holes are huge. I just have a little bit of speed after they make a huge hole. I feel like anyone could run 535 yards with my line.”
With all the publicity surrounding the record-breaking game, it wasn’t long until Wagner’s story reached Derrick Henry himself. Shortly after breaking the record, Henry reached out via social media to congratulate Wagner. The two later met in person when the Tennessee Titans took on the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Wagner says that being able to talk to Henry was an unreal experience.
“It’s crazy, you play with this guy on Madden and he is unstoppable, he is probably one of the best Running Backs in the league and one of the best players in the league. It’s crazy to be able to talk to someone like that and have him tell you to keep up the good work, and saying that I’m inspiring to him after all that he’s done.”
Wagner says that if he is in the same position as Henry one day, he wants to give back to his community, and as a high schooler, Wagner is already working to give back wherever he can. He mentors a young boy who lost some of his fingers in a lawnmower accident and is always eager to help someone in need when he has the opportunity.
A Message of Hope
As Wagner gets ready for his senior season he is focused on earning an offer to play at the next level and hopes to one day reach the NFL.
If he doesn’t reach the league, Wagner hopes to get involved in coaching football at some level because he knows that “the right coach can change a kid’s whole life.”
Even though Wagner has yet to receive a college offer, he knows that if he keeps grinding he will get to where he wants to be. Wagner encourages others not to give up on their dreams despite the adversity they are facing.
“Don’t ever give up. If that’s your dream and you love what you are doing, don’t give up and don’t let anyone tell you any different.”
That’s it for this post. To listen to our full podcast with Wagner click on the play button above. If you like what you read, follow us on Instagram or Facebook using the buttons above. To help us create more inspiring content, please donate to Greater Than The Game using the button below.