With a stellar sophomore season at unheralded Temple and 10 tackles in last week's season-opening 44-14 loss to Virginia, junior linebacker Rian "Goo" Wallace has vaulted into the national picture, being named to just about every applicable preseason award list. This Saturday, the Maryland Terrapins will get a first-hand look.
Despite playing on a team picked to finish last in its final season in the Big East, Temple's linebackers could be among the best in the conference, with Wallace leading the way. Racking up 148 total tackles and 19.5 tackles for a loss in 2003 placed Wallace at the top of the list of returning linebackers. He and fellow linebacker Troy Bennett anchor the Owls' defense that was burned for 44 points and 504 yards by the Cavaliers.
"I don't even take it as hype," Wallace said of the accolades and attention he has received. "I feel it comes through hard work. I'm just trying to stay humble about it and leave last year's play in last year."
Wallace, who earned his nickname through messy eating habits as a kid, remains level-headed about his football success, preferring to point out his off-field triumphs as evidence of his true nature.
With memories of his own relationship with his father in mind, Wallace has devoted himself to his infant son, Nasir. Knowing the pain that stemmed from his father's refusal to acknowledge him, Wallace said he is determined to take a different path.
"I'd rather be known as a great father than as a great linebacker," Wallace said. Nasir is the "most beautiful person in the world. He just smiles when he sees me, just wants to play. Me, not having a father, no one reached out to me. I'm glad I can be there when he reaches out."
When Wallace was growing up in Pottstown, Pa., his father would walk right by him, smiling or smirking, but never affirming their relationship. With a half-brother of the same age in his classes at school, Wallace learned to understand that the situation was not his fault.
But that didn't make it hurt any less.
Now, with a son of his own, Wallace said he's committed to creating and sustaining his young family.
"I would say [his son], without a doubt, is the primary concern in his life," linebackers coach Toby Neinas said. "He has to work hard to balance his academics, his athletics and his family life. Rian Wallace is a good student. He's one of the better students on our football team."
Bennett, who led Temple with 14 tackles against Virginia, said he and Wallace like to lead by example, especially when playing against highly regarded players. By challenging themselves to play up to the level of their opponents, Wallace and Bennett demonstrate to their teammates a desire to prove pundits wrong and raise the profile of their program.
"It's like we built a chemistry together, a foundation," Bennett said. "We know if one person messes up, the other person is going to be there to make the play. There's a lot of communication between us on and off the field."
With another superb season under his belt, the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Wallace may test the waters in the NFL and forgo his final year of eligibility at Temple, potentially leaving the school before it faces one of its biggest challenges -- playing as an independent after being kicked out of the Big East.
"I think he wants his son to have a good life," Neinas said. "I think that's a pretty mature statement. He's doing it and handling it with flying colors. In that respect he's a pretty mature kid. He's trying to make decisions that are best for his son and his family. That speaks volumes. You don't get that much out of college-age guys."