Wallace joins elite company in record books
Kevin Crompton – Editor-in-Chief
Playing Division II football was never even a dream for Jhaaron Wallace. In fact, it was more of an after-thought.
Wallace, an All-Conference and All- Area selection out of Glastonbury High School, had much bigger aspirations of playing at the highest level of collegiate competition: Division I.
“Going DI is just the big dream,” said Wallace. “As a high school athlete, that’s where the big stadiums, the big colleges, and really the big NFL recruiting coaches come. For me, going DI was more of the flashiness and all of the things that come with being a DI athlete, and also the ability to be streamlined directly to the NFL.”
Wallace, a senior inside linebacker for the Owls, just concluded his final year of college football eligibility in Southern’s last game against Merrimack Saturday. He said he has no regrets about choosing Southern for his college playing days.
“Being where I am today, I think it was a great choice that I went here,” said Wallace. “If I went back would I do it again? Absolutely.”
When Wallace joined the Southern football program as a freshman in 2015, he made an immediate impact. Wallace played in every game during his rookie season and recorded 61 tackles, which placed him as the second leading tackler for the Owls that season.
Three years later, as a senior and captain on the team, Wallace led the defense in tackles with 80 and currently sit at fifth in all-time career tackles in Southern history with 259.
“[Wallace’s 259 career tackles] is a quite accomplishment in some ways,” said head coach Tom Godek. “I don’t even know if our league recognizes that at times.”
Members of the NE10 conference are not the only ones that Wallace’s career milestone passed by. Wallace himself said he was incognizant his name was that high on the career tackles list in the Southern record book.
“I was not aware of that,” said Wallace. “I knew I was top ten after the UNH game. I did not know I was top five.
It means a lot, it means a lot,” said Wallace of reaching Southern’s fifth place spot in career tackles. “Playing football from high school, I was the second leading tackler with tackles in a season in my school history. I had 143 in a season and the leader was 148. Ever since then, it’s been like, everywhere I go I got to leave my mark. I can’t just be someone who goes undiscovered in the crowd and just kind of goes away with time. I want to be there and leave my mark and I want to be there forever.”
Having never missed a game in his four years at Southern, Wallace has always been at least a top three tackler for the Owl’s defense. A season with fewer than 50 tackles in a season for Wallace simply does not exist.
“He’ll find a way to get involved in a tackle somehow for us,” said Godek.
Inside linebackers coach and former Owls linebacker Nathan Tyler, was added to the Southern coaching staff just after Wallace’s freshman season. Tyler has spent the past three seasons watching Wallace develop as a player and as a person.
“He’s a very intelligent linebacker first and foremost,” said Tyler. “One of the most important things about being a linebacker is being able to understand all the concepts of the defense and that’s something that as he’s grown, he’s really started to understand the concepts and what the defense if trying to accomplish with each play.”
Tyler said both Wallace’s athleticism and football IQ make him a versatile player.
He plays both our Mike and W positions,” said Tyler. “He can flip back and forth between both inside linebacker positions which is tough to do because there’s different jobs, different responsibilities, different assignments. So, to be able to kind of flip your mind one series and then the next series — hey you’re playing a different position.”
In addition to both inside linebacker positions, Wallace has even lined up as an outside linebacker and defensive end throughout his career to rush the quarterback in certain defensive packages.
“He’s kind of all over the place on the field for us, and just because he does understand football,” said Tyler. “He’s got a really good football mind.”
A deep understanding of the complex X’s and O’s that come with playing linebacker is just the beginning of Wallace’s intellect. In the classroom, Wallace majors in physics.
“He’s extremely smarter than I am,” said Tyler. “He’s a very good student. Physics major and doing football is a tough deal. He’ll come into my office sometimes and watch film and then he’ll be sitting next to my desk doing some crazy equation that I couldn’t figure out.”
Godek said Wallace “clearly leads by example,” however, during the recruiting process, he saw there was more to Wallace than his ability on the field, making him a desirable player to have on the team.
“When he called me at midnight one night asking a question about Southern Connecticut,” said Godek. “I laughed… and I still laugh with him to this day about it because that kind of said to me that he was pretty serious about being a player and getting things right.”
Wallace said after his senior year in high school, he put on “15 to 20 pounds of solid muscle” but he was “still a little undersized” for a college linebacker. When Wallace got to Southern, his technique and attention to detail was quickly recognized by Southern defensive coordinator Chris Lorenti.
“Coach Lorenti kind of took me under his wing, and he saw something in me from the first day I was here,” said Wallace. “The first drill I even did was called bounce-run. I was a little shy freshman and I was near the back of the pack just going through and following all the seniors and upperclassmen in front of me. Coach Lorenti, halfway through the drill, tells everyone to stop and puts me in the front of the line and says ‘hey watch this kid do a bounce-run. This is how you do it right.’ From then on, I just trusted and believed everything he said, and he helped me and grew me to be the player I am today.”
Wallace was named NE10 defensive player of the week for his 15-tackle game and fumble recovery for a touchdown against Stonehill College in September. The last player before Wallace to record at least 15 tackles in a single game for Southern was Mike Cerisano in 2014.
“Wallace was surrounded by some pretty good linebackers during [his] time,” said Godek. Through Southern’s history there’s been some excellent linebackers and I think you’ll find [Wallace’s] name up there with a few of those guys once everything’s all said and done.”
One of the “pretty good” linebackers that Wallace was surrounded by was Cerisano, having played with him in the 2015, ‘16 and ‘17 seasons. Cerisano holds the No. 4 spot in Southern’s all-time career tackles with 268. Wallace came up just nine tackles shy of tying his former teammate on the list.
“Those two were always very competitive in practices and games,” said Tyler. “Who’s going to get more tackles, who’s going to make more plays-stuff like that, does it really matter? No, but it’s fun competitive stuff. You want to try to get to be ranked somewhere. I think it’s just fun competitive stuff to talk about and discuss.”
Wallace said it has been a “great run” in his four years at Southern, crediting his work ethic and dedication to his historic football career.
“I wanted to be the best that I could be for myself and for the team,” said Wallace. “I had to make sure my mentality was focused so that I could do that. The way I worked out, the speed, the intensity at which I worked out, was all important to that. Naturally I’m athletic, but that doesn’t mean that you can go on the field to help your team. And being able to work hard so that when I come out in the fall, I could help my team to the best of my ability — that was just the goal.”
Photo Credit: SCSU Athletic Communications