Catawba’s hard-charging Wallace wows coaches, crowd

By Mike London, The Salisbury Post The only person disappointed with Catawba running back Rodney Wallace’s season is Rodney Wallace. Moments after he broke Netto Purnsley’s school mark for rushing yardage by a freshman, a smiling Wallace said he was a bit miffed he fell short of Greg Singleton’s all-time single-season school record. Wallace, you see, likes to think big. As big as his imposing 5-foot-10, 230-pound frame.“I came here and set some goals,” said Wallace, who is a true freshman, not a redshirt. “I wanted the all-time, not just the freshman record.” Purnsley’s record of 797 yards had stood unmolested for 15 years, before Wallace pushed his tally to 816 in Saturday’s win over Lenoir-Rhyne. Singleton’s record of 1,001 has stood the test of time since ’69, but don’t make any bets on that target surviving Wallace’s sophomore season. Because Wallace, who picked up 87 yards Saturday, is improving by the minute. “Rodney is not the same player now that he was in our first game,” said offensive coordinator Jamie Snider. “He’s gotten better every day. At first, he wasn’t quite sure what he could do. Now he’s got confidence.” Snider said Wallace also inspires confidence in the offensive line. “They know even if they don’t do things perfect, Rodney’s going to gain some yards,” he said. “And if they do do things perfect, he’s going to gain a bunch.” Right tackle Joe Nixon says blocking for Wallace is about as good as it gets for a lineman. “He runs hard and he’s like a bowling ball,” said Nixon. “You give Rodney any kind of crease and he’s going to make you look real good. Better than you are.” Yesterday, Wallace had some of the finest 4-yard runs in the Indians’ long history when his blocking broke down. He also scored two easy TDs when Nixon and his buddies knocked the Bears right off the radar screen. “Getting that record today, that’s just a tribute to our O-line,” said Wallace. “I’m just the guy that runs the ball.” Wallace’s style is about as subtle as a breadtruck. He’s a throwback, a sledgehammer, a workhorse. While last year’s talented feature back, Kevin McKenzie, was a slasher, Wallace is a masher. The stocky kid may hail from the South Carolina town of Bamberg, but he’ll never be confused with Bambi. “When Rodney started out, we had to convince him he didn’t have to hit every single defender,” said Snider. “Rodney would break into the secondary and he’d see a safety and he’d want to run over him instead of away from him.” An older, wiser Wallace will now avoid an occasional tackler, but he’s still the unquestioned star of Catawba film sessions. “Every week when we watch film, there’s Rodney breaking 10 or 11 tackles,” said quarterback Luke Samples. “Sometimes I don’t follow through with my fakes as good as I should because I’m watching Rodney run. He’s just amazing for a guy in his first year here. So fun to watch.” Wallace’s coaches also like to watch their young express train rumble from station to station. “Rodney just has this great natural strength,” said Catawba head coach David Bennett, who heaped praise on running backs coach Matt Barrett for speeding along Wallace’s development. “His strength breaks tackles.” “There are times when I watch Rodney run and just say, ‘Wow!’ ” said Snider. “Arm tackling him just ain’t going to get it done.” Wallace says that besides his power, his biggest assets are a low center of gravity and balance. A three-time state champ as a prep wrestler, Wallace is harder to knock off his feet than Mike Tyson. Snider also raves about Wallace’s disposition. “Rodney’s quiet, just goes about his business,” he said. “When we played Tusculum, we didn’t run much. Rodney never said a word, never complained. He just keeps on going.” Going toward more records and disappointing no one — except himself. “Rodney’s been exactly what we hoped he would be,” said Snider. “I just marvel at him. He’s incredible.” ######

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