VISIT THE LEVI WALLACE FOUNDATION WEB SITE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE MEANINGFUL COMMUNITY SERVICE WORK OF TUCSON HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATE LEVI WALLACE
The scene at Tucson High School on Saturday was like no other in terms of youth football development in Southern Arizona.
Levi Wallace, an NFL cornerback from Tucson who attended Tucson High, was on the Gridley Stadium field coordinating the drills for the more than 300 youths who particpated in the Next Gen Football Camp. The day had two sessions — younger athletes in grade school and middle school in the morning and high school players in the afternoon.
Wallace, entering his fifth season in the NFL after winning two national titles with Alabama, was joined by other substantial Tucson-area products including Brooks Reed, Jamarye Joiner, Stanley Berryhill III, Demetrius Flanagan-Fowles and Jeff Cotton.
Reed is from Sabino and Joiner went to Cienega. Flanagan-Fowles and Cotton played at Mountain View, as did Berryhill before transferring to Orange (Calif.) Lutheran High School.
Wallace, Reed, Flanagan-Fowles and Cotton have progressed to the NFL while Berryhill figures to get there this fall after getting drafted.
“I’ve wanted to give back,” Wallace said of the creation of the Levi Wallace Foundation that made the Next Gen Football Camp possible.
“I found myself wanting to do more back in Tucson. During the season, you kind of get into the loophole of the same thing, being on a schedule. I called my mom (Wendy) and told her, ‘I want to start my foundation.'”
Wallace credits the Avalon Sports Group for the development of the Levi Wallace Foundation, which was launched recently. The Buffalo-based sports marketing firm’s president Deiver Montes was in Tucson for the weekend for the camp.
“We believed this camp was a great way for Levi to connect with his community,” Montes said. “He cares deeply about the development of youth in Tucson.”
The mission statement of the Levi Wallace Foundation:
To support efforts of existing programs to directly build fundamental life skills amongst the youth and those in underserved communities through the use of sports and academics. Emphasizing the importance of discipline, team work, and dedication to enrich and promote self-efficacy.
Wallace’s former Buffalo Bills teammate Lorenzo Alexander, the Vice President of Player Engagement for Avalon, was also part of the camp.
The event also included auctions of Levi Wallace memorabilia (Buffalo and Alabama jerseys and other merchandise) with the money going to the foundation.
“I’m happy where it’s going — the foundation just got started last month,” Wallace said. “Our focus is on the youth as well as the homeless in our community. Just be able to give out more scholarships and help people be more successful in life.
“Tucson is overlooked. I think our part when we leave Tucson we don’t forget where we came from and how hard it was to get out of Tucson. That’s my only goal to help the next generation but also not forget that there are people out there who have real needs.”
In the last two years, Wallace has made a generous donation to the Tucson Unified School District African-American Student Services Department through the Educational Enrichment Foundation, providing 100 food boxes along with Walmart gift cards, and provided almost 500 spiral hams to TUSD families for the holidays.
“I grew up here, 18 years of my life,” Wallace said of Tucson. “This is what made me who I am. My family’s here. My friends, my community. So much support and love is still here. This is home.”
Early during the camp, Tucson mayor Regina Romero visited and thanked Wallace for all he has done for the community.
Throughout the day, his friends visited him, including his former coach at Tucson High, Justin Argraves.
Richard Sanchez, who is now the Badgers’ coach, bought one of Wallace’s Buffalo jerseys during the auction.
“We had a good turnout; as you can see so many kids came out,” Wallace said of the camp. “It’s been good. We want to make it a little bit bigger because we know so many people were left out of this camp. I got alot of e-mails from people who weren’t able to register their kids.
“Next year, hopefully we’ll have a lot more staff and we can move it to a bigger location and have a lot more kids come. Hopefully, we’ll be able to give out scholarships at the end of the camp. That’s our main goal. We want to help the younger kids here, especially those ready to go to college and be able to afford it.”
Wallace’s story of being an unrecruited, overlooked defensive back out of Tucson High before walking on at Alabama is well documented.
He continues to be driven by looking back and remembering the comments that he was not big enough to succeed at the highest level of college football, especially at a program coached by Nick Saban.
“For me, people who say that stuff (that he was undersized), don’t really know football,” Wallace said. “DeVonta Smith is a great example. He won a Heisman (with Alabama) and he only weighs 170 but he’s a dog. It’s about heart at the end of the day. It’s your will and how much you want it.”
He looked at the participants of the camp Saturday and saw young athletes from Southern Arizona similar to him that have high aspirations.
“These kids who come up and show up want to know how I did it,” Wallace said. “I want to be able give them the wisdom that I learned over the years and show them the hard work it took to get me where I’m at.
“Tucson is life. Tucson is my home, 520 every time.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.