Editor’s note: The interview was conducted prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic that forced closure of Shawnee High School until April 20.
Zachary Wagner knew the Navy was his calling after he dedicated years to a travel soccer league.
The Medford Lakes resident found his way to the U.S. Naval Academy, learning what’s behind the public perception of the academy.
“A lot of people think it’s a super strict place and everyone’s all super rigid, and I learned they are normal kids that like to have fun,” Wagner said of the academy’s youth soccer team. “They know what they wanted to do in life and wanted to be successful doing it.”
The Shawnee High School senior will be a member of the academy’s class of 2024 starting in the fall; he was nominated by Congressman Andy Kim.
“I’m grateful that he chose me out of the many people to go to the Naval Academy,” Wagner said of Kim. “It’s been a dream of mine and it’s surreal for it to come true.”
Wagner will also become a member of the academy’s soccer team. He has played center-back and center defensive midfielder for FC DelCo in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, for several seasons.
Soccer, he noted, has been a passion of his “longer than I can remember.” He played with his older brother, JD, on a former travel team. The two, Wagner added, are being reunited on the Naval Academy’s team. Their dad, Drew, is Shawnee’s varsity girls soccer coach.
Once recruited to the academy, Wagner completed an overnight stay on campus with soccer players to learn, first hand, what the classes, the sport and other campus life is like.
“They told me that it was going to be challenging and hard, but everyone there is looking out for you and you have to respect everyone that’s there,” Wagner mentioned.
Other colleges and universities sought out Wagner to play, but they were trumped by his desire to become an officer in either the Navy or Marines. Upon graduation from the academy, he will decide which branch to join.
He had expressed intentions to become a pilot in either branch as his fascination with the profession grew during high school.
“I’ve always loved planes and I think it would be fun to take off on aircraft and do missions,” Wagner shared. “I want to fly F-35Bs which is a Marine fighting jet.”
Wagner’s acceptance to the academy was not made based on just on Kim’s nomination or his athletic abilities. He maintains a 4.0 GPA at Shawnee and is enrolled in the high school’s computer science courses. Wagner plans to major in either computer science or economics; he built his own Windows computer two years ago.
Academic aspirations for Wagner comes with several responsibilities for him to manage, which he recognized and knew could be challenging at times. High school had prepared him for the experience as he dismissed opportunities to procrastinate, he explained.
Wagner is optimistic about the people he will meet at the academy, the experiences he will have on campus, the teammates he will play with and — above all else — the opportunity to serve his country.
“I feel like serving in the military is becoming less popular and it’s your duty as a citizen to serve,” he noted. “I feel like it’s my duty that I owe to the country.”