Mathews star’s talent, versatility no fantasy

MICHAEL G. TAYLOR- 06-03-17 OHSAA State Track & Field Championships. D3 Boys 1600m, finishing, Mathew's Kenny Wallace runs a 4:16.33 minutes to finish 3rd.

Kenny Wallace admits he’s pretty good playing fantasy English Premier League soccer, as he ranks roughly 11,000th out of 3.5 million players in the world. And while the soccer blogger has an eye for identifying talent in his spare time, it’s his own athletic exploits that have made his high school career such a huge success.

Wallace emerged as the face of both track and field and cross country in his time at Mathews, and along the way, he recorded two top five finishes in the 1600 meters at the Ohio state meet. That, along with various other athletic and academic benchmarks, has gotten him to this point — the Tribune Chronicle’s senior male co-athlete of the year for 2017, an honor that he shares with John F. Kennedy’s Jacob Coates.

Also in the running for the honor were Lucas Nasonti of Champion, Jake Hall of Maplewood, Tariq Drake of LaBrae and Tyler Srbinovich of Niles.

“It’s great, actually,” Wallace said of the honor. “I had a really great season, and this is kind of like the cherry on top.”

Wallace, who’s also a standout in soccer and basketball, capped off his career with a third-place finish in the 1600 meter run at the state track meet down in Columbus last weekend.

In 2016, Wallace finished fifth in the event, but he had his eyes set on going for the whole thing in 2017.

“I geared a lot of what I was doing toward that event, and I was slightly disappointed for the first couple of days (finishing third instead of first at the meet),” Wallace said.

“I was doing bigger indoor meets like the New Balance one in New York City, but I came up a little bit short (at state). The times were faster this year, and my own time was much better than last year. But everybody else got faster and you can’t predict or prepare for that to happen.”

Despite the disappointment, Wallace now looks back on the accomplishment with a lot of pride, as he helped lead a very young Mathews team these past few years. In fact, he takes as much pride in winning the MVP award at this year’s Trumbull County meet as anything he’s done at state, as the MVP is typically reserved more for sprinters than distance guys like himself.

His teammates, in fact, gained a whole new appreciation for Wallace, thanks to the accomplishment. And, while his young Mathews counterparts have a lot to look up to when it comes to his athletic accomplishments, such as the Billy Goat Invitational winner, regional champion in the 1600, state qualifier in cross country, and all-district in soccer — just to name a few — those youngsters can take as much pride in what Wallace does in the classroom, or out in the world.

Wallace, who will attend Loyola University in Chicago on a scholarship to run both track and cross country, was named Mathews’ Valedictorian for the class of 2017. Besides a 4.0 GPA, Wallace was also senior class president, not to mention volunteering at the Villa Maria Theresa Oblate Sisters Summer Camp every summer.

“My parents (Ken and Kathleen) have given me some great tools to work with,” Wallace said. “School’s not my favorite thing, but I’ve done pretty well, and being class president helped me gain a lot of respect from my peers. My sister and I went to preschool at the Oblate Sisters, and I have a lot of fun there, it’s a good refresher.”

Perhaps the best of example of what makes Wallace such a worthy athlete of the year is how his senior year started. Wallace was forced to show a lot of grit and determination from the start, as plenty of adversity came his way in the fall of 2016.

Wallace was one of the top-rated cross country runners in the state, heading into 2016, and he managed to win the prestigious Billy Goat Invitational along the way. However, Wallace, who said his No. 1 sport going into high school was soccer, balanced competing in both sports in the fall.

Wallace wound up tearing his meniscus playing soccer in mid-September, and the prognosis going forward did not look good. His fall looked like a lost cause, as he was told by doctors at the Cleveland Clinic that he’d be out at least six weeks, but a second opinion elsewhere got him back within three weeks.

All Wallace did from there was have surgery at the beginning of October, return to cross country and qualify for state three weeks later, and then proceed to score six goals in a 7-6 win over Bristol soon after that.

“It was absolutely awful,” Wallace said of the pain. “I remember trying to pedal as hard as I could on a stationary bike for 20 minutes, and then do eight-minute jogs around Howland Township Park.

“I was just so upset about everything, because everything looked real good for this season. I was thinking to myself, ‘How can a sport I like so much screw me over?’

“I’m still not sure how I did it.”