KJ Wallace Has Always Been Up For A Challenge

January 1, 2019
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Kayle Wallace maintains it’s still the best game he’s ever seen his son, KJ Wallace‍, play.

He was a terror on defense, making so many stops that the opponents had to double-team him. The game went down to the very end and his team prevailed.

KJ was four years old.

“It was great moment in our lives as parents to be able to see him finally understand the game of flag football,” Mr. Wallace says. “His first couple of games, he would literally run to the kid with the ball and escort them to the end zone, wouldn’t pull his flag, wouldn’t anything. He was like, ‘I’m right with you. I’m just as fast as you are.’

“To see this light bulb turn on was just amazing. He finally understood what he was supposed to be doing, grabbing the flag of the person with the ball. To us, that was probably the most exciting game and it culminated in a goalline stand and they won the championship. That’s his mom and I’s favorite game we’ve ever seen him play.”

KJ didn’t play at five as his family moved from Virginia to Georgia, but at six, he made a decision that said a lot about the youngster and what laid ahead of him.

As he prepared to play organized tackle football for the first time, he had a choice to play for the local team where there was a good chance he would be the star of the team or one of the best programs in the state, where he probably wouldn’t start or even see a ton of action on the field.

He chose to play for the Acworth Warriors.

“I’ll be honest, that program might have been the greatest program to ever play,” his father says.

KJ joined a program that included future Minnesota running back Nolan Edmonds, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and first-year Notre Dame safety Derrik Allen. Four-star 2020 quarterback Harrison Bailey, who is committed to Tennessee was on the team one age group behind.

“There were about eight or nine kids who we played with who are all Division-I athletes,” Mr. Wallace recalls. “It’s hard to find one Division-I athlete in park, so it was crazy. Those kids were all really good friends and all great competitors. Everyone knew there was something special going on. There was about three to four year-span where many of the top kids in Georgia and in the nation playing in one park.

“Everyone knew the kids were special, everyone knew they possessed something that wasn’t really normal. The kids worked really hard during the summer. It was really special. All of the dads sit around and say, ‘At some point, there’s going to be a 30 For 30 about this group. You’re not going to find this many kids at one park who are all ranked in the Top 10 of what they do coming out within two years of each other.’”

He may not have known exactly where all of his peers would end up playing college ball at the time, but KJ was certainly aware that he was taking the more challenging of the two paths ahead of him.

“We were really proud of him,” his father says. “He worked hard and before you knew it, he became an all-star at that other program and still holds the record for most touchdowns scored.”

There were plenty more accolades to come and by the time he was midway through his high school career at The Lovett School, KJ would have offers from several of the nation’s biggest programs.

January of 2018 was an eventful period as KJ received a scholarship offer from Notre Dame, made a visit to South Bend for the Irish’s Junior Day and verbally committed to the school a day later.

“We’re extremely proud of the kid because not only did he pass on a lot of great academic schools, he passed on a lot of great football schools,” his father says. “But he found the one school that fit for him and the school that not only fit football, but also academics. As a parent, you can’t be any prouder than that.

“Ultimately, the kid understood that within about 10, 12 years football will come to an end and academic prowess is way more important to what you will be. As parents, my wife and I are truly excited about the choice that he made.”

He passed on an opportunity to play at Auburn, which was especially tough since Tigers’ assistant Rodney Garner is his mother, Bernita Wallace’s, cousin.

“To be able to turn down family, say, ‘You know what, we love you. We’ll see you at Christmas, New Year’s and Thanksgiving, but we’re going to go up to South Bend,’ is a big deal because ultimately family is family,” Mr. Wallace explains. “We’ve always been tight with family.

“For him to make that choice to go to Notre Dame, where not only is he going to get a great academic background, he’s also going to play big boy football.”

Wallace also chances to play at Penn State, Duke, Vanderbilt and Stanford among others.

“Notre Dame is just Notre Dame, you can’t really go wrong with that,” Mr. Wallace says. “To choose a school like Notre Dame, it really validates the fact that he’s been listening to his parents his entire life and understanding academics is way more important than football.”

Separating schools like Stanford and Notre Dame is challenging for many prospects and in Wallace’s case, that’s where the Irish coaches came in.

“There’s a staff around him that he feels comfortable with,” his father says. “That’s really the one thing that separated some of these other schools. Stanford has the same background as Notre Dame; high academic school, great football. There’s a coaching staff at Notre Dame with Coach (Todd) Lyght, Coach (Terry) Joseph, Coach (Chip) Long. He felt more comfortable with those guys and that’s why he chose Notre Dame over the other choices he had.”

With that game as a four-year-old still fresh in his father’s mind, it’s no surprise that Mr. Wallace viewed his son’s signing with Notre Dame on Dec. 19th as a significant stop on the journey.

“We are extremely excited about him reaching this milestone. In his life, it’s just a milestone, but it’s a featured milestone. He’s been working at this since he was six, seven years old. This is 12 to 14 years of his life working to this point to get into a major university. It’s not only a great academic school, but also a top four football program in the country. It’s something for us that we’re extremely excited for and happy for him and happy for all of the hard work he’s put in throughout his life.”

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