PHENIX CITY, Ala. — Jonathan Wallace gripped the microphone, paced the auditorium stage at Central High School, wearing his official white Auburn jacket with blue jeans, and carried out one of his pinnacle values in life.
In a 10-minute speech delivered early Friday morning to more than 100 former classmates at his high school a half hour down the road from college, Wallace was holding not a football, but a copy of the Competitor’s Bible.
Brought back by the school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter for his first visit to Central since taking over as Auburn’s starting quarterback, Wallace imparted wisdom to his fellow teenagers on how he relied heavily on his faith to get him through a rough period during senior year in determining his future.
“It was just a lot of unfinished business. God’s still working on me,” Wallace said in a quiet moment after posing for countless pictures and signing a few autographs, living his new life as a local celebrity.
“It’s starting to come together, it really is. I really see the direction in which God’s trying to take me.”
While Auburn continues on in the process to hire a new coaching staff after firing Gene Chizik Sunday, the freshman Wallace is taking a breather from football, temporarily shelving his playbook and hitting the textbooks with finals week on the horizon. The Tigers’ season closed out Saturday at 3-9, and with no bowl game to prepare for, the offseason starts early.
“I’ve really been trying to just take a little time off now, from the mental part of it,” Wal
lace said. “Get my body back to where it needs to be, of course. Just trying to slowly transition into the next season … and focus in on finals right now. Haven’t been really doing a lot of football stuff.”
A few former Red Devils teammates and his mother, Michelle (who works in Central’s counseling office), were in attendance as Wallace took center stage, just six days after playing in front of more than 100,000 fans at Bryant-Denny Stadium in the Iron Bowl vs. Alabama.
Wallace shared his low point with listeners: the middle of basketball season, when he lost an inordinate amount of weight. Not from workouts, and not from failing to eat for three weeks (as some friends had guessed), but due to stress over where he would play college football, a choice he switched twice last winter.
“I had a lot of things going on at the time, not being real sure about what I wanted to do with my life,” Wallace told the crowd. “Of course, my mom and dad knew what was going on. It’s funny that they know so much about me, and I used basketball as an excuse to everybody else. But I had a lot of fear in my life at the time.”
With only good things in store for him, Wallace couldn’t understand why he didn’t feel more excited about his future. Then he had an epiphany, believing he hadn’t trusted in God enough to make a major decision.
Appropriately, given the platform and notoriety he holds today, Wallace’s most common form of communication on his Twitter page are sharing those Bible proverbs which guided him through a difficult transition.
“After I signed with Auburn, I felt a release. Literally, my body just relaxed. I was glad this was over,” Wallace said to his peers.
Wallace implored the students to not give into temptations like partying every night, smoking and drinking.
“You can stand out. Be that light for somebody else,” Wallace said. “Come to the front and be somebody else.”
Well-aware of his newfound stature — not just as an Auburn commit, but as one of the Tigers’ most important prospects going forward — Wallace is taking every advantage to fulfill his impactful goals.
“That’s one of the biggest things people told me — when I reach this level, use that platform for God’s purpose,” Wallace said. “It’s really been a blessing, coming out and talking to kids I’ve grown up with. It’s easy for me to go off and go on about my life, but at the same time, reaching out and seeing those kids who really need that role model in their lives is something I’ve always been wanting to do.”
After a week of reflection on the final month of the season — in which Wallace helped Auburn beat two non-conference foes but was shut out by Georgia and Alabama, tonight’s SEC Championship Game contenders — Wallace reiterated what he must work on when preparation for 2013 begins.
“Everything. From mechanics to being smarter, gaining more knowledge of the game — every avenue of it,” Wallace said. “You can’t just focus on one certain area — you’ve got to do it all. I’ll turn it up a notch and go from there.”