Fort Campbell star has not always played football

June 18, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON - Unlike most of his teammates on the Kentucky all-star team that will face host Tennessee tonight, linebacker Gabe Wallace did not always like football.

He never played football until arriving at Fort Campbell and deciding to join the team as a freshman.

"I had no desire to play before then," said Wallace. "I really didn't like football at all. I thought I was going to be a basketball player, but that didn't work out. I guess I started realizing that when I was 5-8, about 190 pounds and couldn't really shoot. I knew then I wouldn't play in the NBA."

He had lived in Italy, Germany, Washington and South Carolina before coming to Fort Campbell with his family. He quickly found a home on the football field when he decided to try a new sport.

"I noticed right away that I was comfortable playing football," Wallace said. "I had a certain talent for the game. It wasn't something I had to work hard to be successful, even though I learned I had to work to get better."


He's good enough not only to be in the starting lineup tonight when Kentucky tries to beat Tennessee for the fourth time in five years, but he's also good enough to have earned a scholarship to Kentucky. He originally committed to UK not long after teammate Marcus McClinton did, but then he changed his mind and said he was going to Louisville.

Visit from McBride helped convince him to join Wildcats

A visit from Kentucky linebacker coach Ron McBride a few weeks before signing day helped convince Wallace that he should join the Wildcats.

"My linebacker coach came down two weeks before I finally committed back to Kentucky," Wallace said. "I ate everything up he said because it made a lot of sense. I wasn't moved by his words, but I understood it and felt comfortable with what he was saying.

"He's a knowledgeable guy and a big talker. But he was not only talking about what I could do on the field, but also talking about things off the field even more. He talked about me getting my degree and getting into a career field. That impressed me."

Wallace impressed Kentucky coaches with his speed and athleticism.

"I can run a little bit, but you can never get too fast for college," Wallace said. "Most freshmen would probably like to redshirt and just ease into the game, but the coaches have told me the opportunity is there to get some playing time right away."

The same goes for McClinton, who committed to UK at the end of his junior year and never wavered on his decision. Both Kentucky coach Rich Brooks and defensive coordinator Mike Archer have said that he could even challenge for a starting spot at safety as a freshman next season.

"I kind of wish they would just let me get here and see what happens," McClinton said. "That puts extra pressure on a person and makes everybody expect you to be so great. Everybody expects so much more out of you. It helps builds character, but it does add pressure."

McClinton understands UK coaches trying to motivate him and starters

McClinton understands that the UK coaches are not only trying to motivate him, but also to push the returning starters.

"I am not coming in here to try and step in and start right away," McClinton said. "I expect to learn from the older guys. Hopefully I can push them and they will help me by teaching me more. I know I need to learn from them."

They won't have to teach him about being aggressive. He's impressed the Kentucky all-star coaches this week with his ability to attack the football and make big hits.

"That is probably my best trait as a player. When everything else is going wrong, you can still be aggressive," McClinton said. "That's just my personality. What I do best is pursue the ball. Whenever I am on the field, I will get to the ball."

McClinton says the scouting report should be the same on him and Wallace.

"We are disciplined, athletic and will do whatever a coach tells us to do. We both just want to win," McClinton said.

"Since the day I signed, I have been contemplating on the things I need to do to get better and this week has helped me get back used to playing football," Wallace said. "I am a player who doesn't quit on a play and I am always going to run full speed and put my heart into the game."

That includes tonight's game in Knoxville.

"We are representing our state and coaches in this game," Wallace said. "This rivalry means a lot to me because I have never really known any other football except for Kentucky football and I know people here don't like Tennessee."

McClinton is confident Kentucky will win.

"In my mind, we've already beat them. That's just the way we feel," he said.

Four local players on team

Four local players - linebacker Ian Young of Boyle County, running backs Charles Penix of Danville and Mark Dunn of Harrodsburg, and safety Brad Cloud of Boyle - will also be playing in tonight's game. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.

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