by Kami Mattioli, CLA '11
In his two years at Temple University
, senior offensive lineman Martin Wallace
has become intimately familiar with fill-in roles.
The 6-foot-6 New York City native divided his time at both left and right tackle in the 2010 and 2011 seasons while also making appearances on the team's field goal unit.
But Wallace's most interesting role wasn't one that he chose. In fact, it didn't even occur within the rectangular confines of the football field.
As part of Temple's core requirements for graduation, Wallace, a criminal justice major, had to enroll in extracurricular classes outside of his course of study.
That's how he found himself in a course called “The Art of Acting.”
Those who know Wallace refer to the imposing lineman as passionate, enthusiastic -- a team leader. His football personality seems to match the fiery intensity of the grizzly strawberry-blonde beard he sports, just barely visible between the caged bars of his helmet.
“On the field, he's tough, accountable, coachable. Off the field he's a little goofy, but a good kind of goofy,” offensive line coach Justin Frye explained. “He's a good guy to have around.”
As someone content to leave his game face on the field, much rather preferring the levity of comedy in his day-to-day life, it seems only natural, then, that Wallace would be a prime candidate to excel in an acting class.
But that's not to say it was an easy adjustment.
“It was one of the more interesting classes I took here at Temple,” Wallace said tentatively.
He was quick to amend his thoughts, continuing on with a smile.
“It got me to learn to how to open up and release a lot of tension.”
The lessons he gleaned from a semester in an amateur acting course run far deeper than merely blocking out a short, irreverent skit as part of his final examination -- though, in a sense he does that too, when barking directions at his linemates on the field, casting them as Xs and Os in the human playbook evolving before him.
It was through the power of careful observation and fruitful participation, two of the five fundamentals in the acting realm, that Wallace found himself a starting position on the offensive line and became one of only nine Owls to start every game in the 2011 season.
With that prestige and experience came a new role: one as a burgeoning, reputed leader.
“My offensive linemates look to me to give them the tools of the trade that they haven't experienced yet,” Wallace said of his growing leadership responsibility.
“I feel like my experience is something that I can use to help others. I would draw on it. It's something that I can give to these younger guys and tell them 'hey, this is how you need to approach it.'”
And certainly Wallace has a lot of that prior experience to draw on, especially as this year's Temple squad delves back into Big East Conference play. After all, he's not exactly a stranger to switching conferences.
Fresh out of high school, Wallace's first foray in the world of college football took place in the CAA, in Boston, as part of the Northeastern Huskies where he saw playing time as a true freshman. Despite successful freshman and sophomore campaigns, he was cut loose in November of 2009 when Northeastern's Board of Trustees voted to disband the university's football program, citing attendance woes and apathy as its two main reasons.
A stellar student, he debated remaining at Northeastern in the wake of the decision, but instead Wallace decided to re-script his future and pursue his love of football elsewhere.
While at Temple on an official visit, he bonded with his campus hosts: fellow offensive linemen, brothers Pat and Sean Boyle
, and decided to make Temple and the city of Philadelphia his final landing spot.
That was the fall of 2010, and Temple was in the Mid-American Conference. It was the beginning of the upswing in popularity and success for the Owls, and it came at the tail-end of the Al Golden Era. The months following the conclusion of the team's 8-4 season were a period of uncertainty for the both the Owls and Wallace, until Steve Addazio was named as Golden's replacement in late December.
“When Al Golden left, the program sort of had this sense of hopelessness,” Wallace recalled. “Then after that spring began and we realized what we could really do with Coach Addazio, there was a revitalization of hope in that we're going to win and keep that tradition going.”
And now, as Temple enters into Big East play, Wallace looks to continue that winning tradition in a new conference -- his third in four years.
Ask him and he'll assure you he's not nervous or rattled by the increasing barometer of competition, though. It's been par for the course for him.
“Every time I moved up in a conference -- from the CAA to the MAC to the Big East now -- you always have to adapt your playing style. You have to understand that their level of play is higher than yours and you have to step up your game to compete with theirs,” he said.
It was Coach Frye that perhaps best summed up Wallace's jumbled jaunt through the world of collegiate football.
“He's had a different journey than anybody,” he said. “Anybody who's a competitor, you want to win no matter what school you're at or what level you're at. You play the game to win. He's one of those guys where that's really important to him.”
No one understands the significance of Wallace's zeal better than Sean Boyle
, his fellow lineman and one of his closest friends on the team.
“He has a lot of passion for the game,” said Boyle. “He plays with a lot of energy, enthusiasm and he goes hard every play -- which you're supposed to do anyway -- but he makes sure to do it. Some people will loaf in practice but he takes it to heart if he doesn't go 100% every play.”
He understands because the two have more in common than an obvious love for the game of football and similar positions on the field.
It hasn't been an easy road for Boyle either, who has spent the past two seasons riddled with a series of injuries that limited his playing time.
As much as they are similar and tend to share the leadership role on the offensive line, their leadership styles vary greatly. The two are perfect foils, the literary term for the point-counterpoint relationship that unites Boyle and Wallace on the field.
“He's more direct in his leadership. He's straight to the point, where I might try to find a way to maneuver around it. I think as a combination, it's good for the rest of the line, the rest of the team,” Boyle said.
The easy way to be a successful leader, according to Wallace, is to be accountable and to hold others to that same standard of accountability.
“You have to hold yourself accountable. You have to hold the guys who you play with accountable for their assignments, their toughness, their technique. Everything that you do has to be done for a reason. You can't take any days off now,” he elaborated.
He prefers to lead by example, taking a moment out of the action in practice to correct a flaw in technique before it becomes a habit.
With Wallace, every moment of his time on the gridiron is a teachable moment, whether it's for himself or for his teammates.
Even submerged waist-deep in the frigid cold tubs that clutter the sidelines of the Edberg-Olson Football Complex, where others are content to eschew football speak as they soak the lactic acid from their muscles, Wallace's voice is often heard floating over the din.
But it's never a huge production. He doesn't call attention to himself or demand the spotlight when he disperses knowledge. The way he commands attention from his teammates isn't boisterous; instead, they flock to him in a sort of respectful yielding to a warrior who has been through it all.
It's validation that his leadership on the 2012 Temple Owls' offensive line is more than just an act or another role he plays.
It's who he really is.