Notre Dame commit Bo Wallace: When athleticism meets technique

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

Even the most dynamic football players reach a moment of revelation when they accept the reality that the game goes beyond physical domination.

Bo Wallace’s “eureka!” moment came a year ago.

Wallace’s John Curtis Christian School team from River Ridge, La., (near New Orleans) was playing St. Augustine High, a team that featured future LSU standout running back Leonard Fournette. Wallace, at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, was a physically imposing outside linebacker.

Trouble was, he was struggling. And, he was frustrated.

“We took him out for a while,” said JT Curtis, head football coach at John Curtis. “That’s when he recognized that no matter what’s going on, he had to continue playing with technique. You can’t rely on athleticism.

“You have to play smart football. After a while, he settled down. He has learned a great deal during his time here. He has recognized it’s not enough to just be a great athlete.”

Since then, there has been improvement.

“(Wallace has) made a lot of progress from a technique standpoint,” Curtis said. “He’s more than just a pass rusher; he has learned how to play blocks, and how to adjust to blocks.”

“I have the speed (a 4.6-second 40-yard dash), … I have the size, but I have to do everything I was taught in practice on every single down, every single play,” Wallace said. “Technique is so important.”

That approach to the game will be critical for Wallace, who will sign his letter-of-intent with Notre Dame Wednesday. An outside linebacker/defensive end asset to the Irish program, Wallace’s future will have to include 20 or 30 extra pounds and the versatility to play with his hand in the dirt or standing up.

He walks in with a gift. Wallace knows the way to the quarterback.

“You look at (Notre Dame’s) class, there’s no one like (quarterback) Brandon Wimbush, and there’s no one like Bo Wallace,” said Steve Wiltfong, recruiting director for 247Sports. “No question he’s a project, but there’s a lot to play with.

“Wallace is one of the ‘lunch-pail’ (hard-working) guys in this class, and he better bring it to Notre Dame. He’s nowhere close to a finished project, but if you can get to the quarterback, you’ve got a chance to play.

“There’s a burst of explosiveness there. The (physical) frame to be 240-250 pounds is there. He was well-coached, which really helps.”

Wallace grew up in New Orleans and played his freshman year at Jesuit High School there. He said Jesuit wasn’t a comfortable fit for his “outgoing personality,” so he spent his sophomore year at Foster High in Richmond, Tex., where his uncle lived. Being far from home wasn’t a solution either, so he enrolled at John Curtis Christian School.

Wallace said his GPA is in the 2.8-3.0 range, until “my mom gets on me, then I pick it up a bit.”

He didn’t do a lot of camps, but somehow the top college football programs managed to find him. Oklahoma, Texas, UCLA and Minnesota – along with Notre Dame – were among his top choices.

Maybe it was his 17 sacks as a junior, or 77 tackles and nine sacks his senior year, when he was selected Louisiana’s Class 3-A Defensive Player of the Year.

“Being a new kid (as a junior), nobody knew who I was,” Wallace said. “I had to make a statement for myself. I didn’t do anything different this year, but there (was a focus by opposition offenses) on me.”

“Bo Wallace is a legitimate, big-time player. In a couple years, he can be great,” said CBS Sports Network recruiting analyst Tom Lemming. “Notre Dame is bringing in a ton of good linebackers, and they all can play.”

Some recruiting services have listed Wallace as a three-star prospect. Lemming, though, disagrees.

“(Wallace is) a legit four-star player who did well against some really good competition,” Lemming said.

Notre Dame fans will be tempted to compare Wallace with Justin Tuck, among the best at rushing the quarterback, in Notre Dame history. Does Curtis, who coached former Irish linebacker Michael Stonebreaker in the ‘80s, buy into that?

“It’s not fair (to compare him to Justin Tuck),” the coach said. “Bo Wallace is going to be Bo Wallace. He has to play to his level.

“It’s going to take some time. You don’t walk into a place like Notre Dame and expect to become a great pass rusher. You have to recognize that there is a learning process. You have to be able to play within the scheme. The great thing about Bo, he understands that.”

“With all due respect, when I sign my letter-of-intent, it will be my name, not (Tuck’s) name,” Wallace said. “When I get to Notre Dame, I’ll be asking a lot of questions. I have so much to learn.”

“Justin was much bigger (6-5, 225) coming out of high school than Bo,” Lemming said. “Tuck was relatively unknown. Everyone knows Bo Wallace.”

Fans may have a chance to have their own “eureka!” moment.

Bo knows it’s possible.

Defensive end Bo Wallace is set to sign with Notre Dame on Wednesday. (Photo by Brett Duke, | The Times-Picayune)