“…My uncle was a tremendous supporter…Coach Tommy Morton, taught me so much about football, but he also taught me how to handle myself and get ready for the college game…Coach Robert Youngblood, he was so diligent…Coach Billy Brewer and the opportunity and inspiration he gave me to be a good football player…and Coach Red Parker, he moved me to tight end and I ended up having a 15-year NFL career because of that transition. He really did change my life.”
The above is an excerpt from a conversation I had with Wesley Walls as he reflected on the people whom he shared his football journey with; included in that list are those that took the actual journey with him to New York to share in the celebration on Tuesday night when he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Walls joins the 2014 class as “one of the most acclaimed players in Ole Miss history.”
Football is about helping others
I asked Walls about what it means to be inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame and in his response he was truly honored and reflective in noting how he got here and whom he stands alongside.
“As I listened to everyone today, everyone is talking about all of the people who helped them get to where they are today, who helped them succeed in college. Growing up, you have a coach or you have someone who believed in you, who worked with you, who taught you how to play and taught you to be a good sport–taught you that it’s important to go to class and be a student-athlete first. And then when you get recognized, you’re overwhelmed with emotion because you realize how many people have helped you along the way and have been there for you—for you to be able to stand here alongside this great class and alongside the other fellow hall of famers that have been inducted before you. It’s just overwhelming.”
Football is about setting goals and achieving them
Walls started his journey with the National Football Foundation many years ago and in fact, he was honored in 1988 as a NFF National Scholar-Athlete.
“I’ll tell you, the National Football Foundation they do a great job with their scholarships and these mentoring programs for these young players, teaching them and recognizing the excellence on and off the field. And I was fortunate enough, coming out of high school, to be recognized by the NFF. And then when I graduated college, to be named as a scholar athlete for the work I did in the classroom and on the football field. They just set these goals and they help you achieve them. That’s what the National Football Foundation does.”
Football teaches you character, integrity and sportsmanship
The National Football Foundation just launched FootballMatters.org and those words were rather evocative when I asked Walls why football matters.
“Football does matter. It teaches you character, integrity, sportsmanship. It also teaches you how to lose, how to overcome loss, how to overcome injury. It teaches you how to be a tough man. And that’s what the football foundation, the work they do, enables college athletes around the country to be better men and better players.”
Alternative Career Options?
Walls enjoyed a successful 15 seasons in the NFL after being selected in the 1989 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers. He was five-time Pro Bowl selection, three-time All-Pro Selection and enjoyed a victory in Super Bowl XXIV during his rookie season. But he reflected on what his life might have been like without the NFL, had he chosen to use his football foundation for another career path.
“I always wondered about that. I was a good student and I always wondered what would have happened, where I would have gone to graduate school, what kind of degree would I have pursued—I wanted an MBA. I feel like I would’ve found a way to be successful. I believe had I never played a down of football after college, what I had learned from the game–the structure, the discipline, the character and integrity built playing football– would have helped me in business.”
Where would you be without football?
In the end, Walls is thankful not only for the game, but also for the people it brought into his life.
“My life would be different. I owe the game a lot. I owe the people that taught me the game, the people that coached me, the people that played with me as teammates. They really have changed my life. I believe that God puts people in your life sometimes in a moment that you really need some change—you need some support. And throughout all of these hall of famers lives, you heard the stories today, where somebody was there to help them—their coach, their teammates. And it resonates through all of our stories. I can’t thank those guys enough.
The National Football Foundation’s 57th Annual Awards Dinner can be watched OnDemand on the NFF’s website at www.footballfoundation.org.