However, four games into his senior season, his production on the field has demanded attention not only at McMurry, but on the national scale as well. Wallace was among 37 players placed on the “watchlist” for Dec. 15's Division III Football Senior Classic in Salem, Va. He was one of only three players from the American Southwest Conference on the list along with Mary Hardin-Baylor's running back Quincy Daniels and Louisiana College's linebacker Donovan Williams.
The list formed just three days following Wallace's 22-tackle performance against Austin College Sept. 12 which nearly doubled his previous career-high of 13 from 2006 in a game against Sul Ross State.
In his first three seasons, Wallace compiled 183 tackles and had four games with at least 10 tackles. But as a senior in 2009, Wallace has elevated his game recording double-digit tackles in all four of McMurry's contests, and he has tallied 53. He leads the ASC through four weeks and ranks fifth among NCAA Division III players in tackles per game at 13.25.
“He could play at another level because the biggest thing he does is tackle well,” said defensive coordinator Joe Lee Dunn of his lone senior. “If we had 11 guys that could tackle like he does, we wouldn't have any problems.”
Dunn's compliments speak volumes of Wallace since he was the defensive coordinator at NCAA Division I Mississippi State where he coached the No. 1defense in the nation in both 1999 and 2001.
Tackles had always been a strong point with Wallace throughout his career at McMurry. In just his second game in the maroon and white as a freshman Sept. 9, 2006, he recorded six tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss in a game against Austin College. Since then, his playmaking ability has continued to increase, and none more apparent than the first four games of his senior year.
Against nationally-ranked Trinity in the opening game Sept. 5, Wallace had 10 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, forced a fumble and recorded the first two fumble recoveries of his four-year career. After 22 tackles (seven solo) against Austin College, he followed with 10 tackles against Mississippi College and 11 against No. 3-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor.
He entered the season as the 28th all-time leading tackler on McMurry's career list, but he's accelerated up the ladder and moved past Manse Draper for 12th on the all-time list following the UMHB game Saturday. Since McMurry joined both the ASC and the NCAA in 1996, Wallace ranks second all-time in total tackles trailing just Colby Witt (2002-05) who had 344 in his four-year career.
Wallace is the lone senior on McMurry's starting defense and head coach Hal Mumme and Dunn have looked for Wallace to be the leader.
“There's something about him. He's kind of a warrior, he leads the league in tackles and he's just, always there,” said Mumme of Wallace. “I don't know what coach Dunn would do without him. I hope we win some games here going out because he's paid a big price around here and been a stellar performer for several staffs.”
Wallace, along with senior center Josh Clements and tight end Seth Waller are the only four-year lettermen on the McMurry roster. Each player has been through three head coaches, and Wallace has endured three defensive coordinators and three different defensive schemes in his college career. However, he's rolled with the transition, fought through injury and has established himself among the elite linebackers in the ASC and perhaps the nation.
“He's just a good football player, that's why he excels,” Mumme said. “He's overcome a broken hand followed by surgery. And, it's hard to change coaching staffs, and he's done it twice. I just appreciate his attitude and the way he works. I wish I had 10 more like him.”
In an age where football players act as if they have won a national championship after a tackle for a loss or a sack, Wallace stands on the opposite side of that extreme. Throughout his career, when Wallace has made big plays - and he's made several (25 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries) - the 6-1, 205-pound linebacker simply sprints back to the huddle for the next play.
“He's a sideline-to-sideline player. He makes plays for us; he's not a very outspoken guy, not a rah-rah guy, but he comes out and goes to work every day and does his job,” said associate head coach Mason Miller. “He's been effective for coach Dunn and the defensive staff. I think his production on the field speaks for itself and the kind of character he has as a person.”
Wallace's discipline and work ethic shine through in many different areas of his life. From a football standpoint, he displayed his toughness to the new defensive coaching staff in August on Dunn's “Packer Day.”
Packer day is an incremental drill spanned over 13 periods through 10 days of training camp where defensive players build up to 15 consecutive minutes of up-downs. In order to play football on Dunn's defense, players must pass this rigorous test of throwing their bodies to the ground and popping back up on the sound of Dunn's whistle. By the last day of training camp, Wallace had separated himself from his teammates, and it has showed on the field.
Off the field, Wallace is a workhorse as well. He works 32 hours a week, during the season, at the Acadia Psychiatric Hospital all while maintaining a GPA above a 3.0 as a biology major at McMurry.
“He's a good player, he really is, but he's even a better kid,” said Dunn. “When I heard was he was doing as far as working and playing, I couldn't believe it. He's been a fun kid to get to know.”
With the off-the-field work load, the stress of keeping up with his studies, and the re-cooperation from his hand injury, Wallace had considered giving up his senior year. However, midway through the summer, the desire to play overtook his doubts and concerns, and he told Mumme he would be ready to suit up in the fall.
With a combined five wins since Wallace joined the team in 2006, he said he wants nothing more than to break McMurry's 17-game losing skid and help the program get back on track with six games remaining.
“I think we're becoming more of a team, and when that happens, you trust the person next to you to make plays,” Wallace said. “I really think we can win the rest of our games if we execute in all phases. We have just as much talent as everyone else.”
Wallace and McMurry will try to turn the tide Saturday against East Texas Baptist in Abilene at Wilford Moore Stadium at 6 p.m. Not only, is McMurry fighting its own 17-game losing streak, but also an eight-game skid to East Texas Baptist.
“I want our first win to be at home,” Wallace said. “I wanted it four weeks ago, but I think we've got the opportunity still to turn some heads and come away with some wins.”