A visit with C.J. Wallace, Sr.
In the coming years, the younger Wallace played flag football first, before moving on to pee-wee football. With an aggressive style of play, he kept getting bigger and bigger. By the time he reached his senior season at Grant Union high school in Sacramento, he had become a two-way terror. C.J. Wallace, Jr. led the Pacers to a 9-2 record and a berth in the 2002 Division I playoffs. Wallace, Sr. described his favorite memory from watching his son that season.
"There was a game they played against a major school here in Sacramento, it was a DOGFIGHT," said Wallace. "And C.J. just single-handedly took over at the end of the game. He rushed for almost 200 yards, and he had the game-saving tackle. We knew then that he was headed for big things. His team was up by one point at the end of the game, and the opposing team was going for the two-point conversion. C.J. came to the sideline and told the coach `I'm going, I'm blitzing!' And C.J. lined up and then came off the end and just nailed this cat in the backfield for a loss. Game over… The game was at home, and the crowd was going WILD."
Wallace was asked what it was like for his son to be recruited and signed by Washington.
"We started getting a lot of mail from Washington, and then (former UW coach) Rick Neuheisel called," he said. "C.J. had a cousin who played for Colorado, so we knew a little about Neuheisel already. And Neuheisel was kind of a young guy, so there was an easy connect there. C.J. had offers from Fresno State, Oregon State and Oregon. But C.J.'s cousin, Ken Connelly, used to play receiver at Washington, and he lived up there, so that provided him a place for dinner on Sundays and all that stuff. And as soon as C.J. saw everything up there, he liked it. Plus Neuheisel offered to let him wear his #1 jersey. That first year up there, it was tough for CJ. It was tough weather-wise, and it was difficult getting used to that environment. It's not as urban, not as inner-city, as what he's used to. C.J.'s not a bad kid, he's a really good kid; but he's a typical inner-city kid, and it's been a transition for him."
When Rick Neuheisel successfully recruited C.J. Wallace, Jr. to Seattle, it was under the semi-ambiguous term of "athlete." He soon put the youngster at safety. But Wallace, Sr. seemed to lament (at least a little) about the path not taken.
"Up there in Seattle a lot of people don't know that C.J. averaged about twelve yards a carry as a running back in high school," he said. "As a matter of fact, he's the best running back you've got on that team, and no one up there knows it. It's fine, he loves playing safety. But when he came out of Grant, a lot of people here were calling him the next Onterrio Smith. His numbers were as good or better than Smith's. C.J.'s a great safety—but a lot of people down here have been surprised that he hasn't been put at running back, considering the running back situation up there.
"Because I've looked at all the Husky running backs," he said, "and they're one-dimensional. They're either a power back or slash back. But C.J. is a good mixture of both. If you look at him on the defensive side of the ball, he hits the hole before the running back does. He beats the linebackers to the punch. When he sees a seam he knows there's a running back on the other end of that, and he's coming with everything's he's got. He's a running back by instinct and he knows what to look for."
Wallace, Sr. was asked, from his perspective as Dad, how his son has dealt with seeing two coaches fired and the continuous losing at Washington.
"C.J. took Neuheisel's firing tough," Wallace said. "Gilberston leaving wasn't as tough for him to deal with. He liked Neuheisel a little more. Neuheisel was younger, a hip-hop kind of guy. Gilbertson was old-school. So a younger kid is going to naturally like the hip-hop a bit more. But not once has he complained about the losing. He just wants to win. He understands that it doesn't help you win if you're down or upset. He knows there's no sense in even going there. He tries to be encouraging to his teammates."
C.J. Wallace, Jr. earned Honorable Mention All Pac-10 honors a year ago. Now he advances toward his final season of college football. Wallace, Sr. was asked to describe the biggest change he has seen in his son, since "Little C.J." headed off to college four years ago.
"He's a little more settled," he said. "He's growing up. C.J. is a lot like my father, in that he feels that you never say in two words what you can say in one. He doesn't do a lot of talking. Sometimes that gets him misread, because he's a big kid and doesn't smile all the time and doesn't talk a lot. But I've seen him a little more talkative and a little more palatable in terms of being able to communicate verbally with others."
And so far, what marks Wallace's favorite moment of seeing his son in a Husky uniform?
"I love all the games," he said. "But I would say the (2005) Notre Dame game, and I liked what he did against USC in his sophomore year in ‘04. He made an interception, and he made that close on Reggie Bush in the backfield.
"Everybody bit one way," said Wallace. "But C.J. read Reggie Bush and made the tackle."
Derek Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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