The summer of 2019 has been a bit different for the Bryant Hornets. Coming off the program’s first state title under fourth-year head coach Buck James brings with it the spotlight of expectations. But as James sees it, his program is taking that attention in stride.
“I’m really proud to see how our players have worked so hard to get back at this and doing what’s needed,” he said. “They understand the process, and I think that’s the key to achieving success. They know what has to be done and what steps have to be taken if they want to achieve their goals.”
One player in whom that sense of understanding appears to be most visible is through senior outside linebacker Catrell Wallace. A quiet, humble three-year starter and multi-sport athlete, Wallace has cemented himself as one of the anchors to the Hornets’ squad and a key defensive standout moving into the season.
“He’s the real bell cow for our line backing crew,” James said. “I believe that group can be one of the real strengths of our team on the defensive side, and Catrell and his teammates have worked hard to gel as a unit.”
James notes that Wallace’s size (6’6”, 225 pounds) and speed help make him a force on the field, but if you ask the Hornet senior, he’ll simply tell you he’s having fun playing a sport he loves. In fact, it’s the sport his whole family loves.
“Football gives me a feeling of adrenaline that’s different from any other sport,” Wallace says. “It lets me express myself in a way none of the other sports really can. Also, everyone in my family has always played, so it just feels like the right fit.”
Wallace remembers the first time he was introduced to the game as a child after moving back to Saline County from Minnesota. He says, even then, the game just came to him naturally. “At first, I was playing flag football but really wanted to move up a level to tackle football, he said. “One day, I sneaked off with my cousins to go play with them. The coach told me that I’ll be able to play, probably even start, if I got the right permissions. From there, things just felt different.”
“Different” is a good way to explain Wallace’s aptitude for the game, and it’s something Coach James and his staff recognized early on in his high school career. “I like the way he plays as well as how he prepares. He puts in the work on the practice field and remains focused,” he said. “He plays with great tenacity, and he’s as nasty as he needs to be when he’s on the field.
“After he grows a bit and spends some time in the weight room doing the things he needs to do there, there’s really no telling [where he could go]. He could end up playing on Sundays because he has all of the physical tools it takes to be able to do that,” James added.
Wallace’s skills are drawing the attention of several college football programs, from the University of Arkansas and Arkansas State to Tulane and the University of Miami. Though he hasn’t yet chosen where he’ll attend, he has spent his summer visiting a number of those schools.
“This was always a dream of mine, but [one] I never really thought I’d get the chance to do,” he said. “But to know my grandparents won’t have to pay for school and that I’d be able to play football while getting my education–that’s really special.”
Wallace has lived with his grandparents since the second grade and credits much of his success to their guidance. “I’m really close with my grandpa. He’s always a great example for me, and my grandmother does everything. She keeps me going playing football, making sure I’m eating right, and she keeps me safe and focused.”
Wallace says that strong support system of his family, fellow players and Hornet coaches keeps him working on and off the field, and they’re a consistent motivator to his and hopefully Bryant’s success.
“Playing for the coaching staff here is unlike anything I expected,” he said. “Coach James has done so much to get the program on the right path and going in the right direction. He pushes all of us do the right things, and he’s always there to listen and gives us great advice. He’s surrounded himself with a great staff and created a real family atmosphere for me and my teammates.”
And for now, that’s all that matters to Wallace. He said he’s not looking ahead to college, right now. Instead, he and his fellow Hornets have more pressing matters to attend to: defending their state title.
“It was special for us to send our seniors off with that title last year,” he said. “They had been with Coach James from the very beginning. They’d seen it all, and for me, I was happy to help bring them that championship. It was a team effort that required a commitment from all of us to accomplish that. Now, we want to do it again.”
The Hornets start down that road Aug. 30 when they face the Benton Panthers in the 45th Salt Bowl.