By NICK BAUMGARDNER
The Daily News
The last time Ryan Wallace was playing competitive football in Bowling Green, he was part of a tradition-rich, winning program, playing for championships and regarded as one of the more highly sought-after tight ends in the country.
But that was in the fall of 2007, and the 6-foot-5, 247-pound Wallace was wearing Bowling Green High School purple – not Western Kentucky red.
Things haven’t panned out exactly how Wallace envisioned when he left BGHS for Colorado during the summer of 2008, but the former area prep standout has no intention on looking back.
He’s home now – and couldn’t be more excited about it.
“It definitely feels great to be back,” Wallace told the Daily News last week. “I’ve got a lot of family ties to WKU and this is a place I’ve always loved and am thankful for the opportunity to come back here.
“Obviously this wasn’t something I planned, but things happen and sometimes you do what’s best for your family and being back here is a huge blessing.”
After originally inking with Colorado and redshirting as a freshman in 2008, Wallace opted to leave Colorado in order to be closer to home.
Wallace eventually landed at Kentucky, where he would have three years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2010.
But, as is often the case in life, things don’t always go as planned – and a family illness led Wallace to seek a second transfer, this time even closer to home at WKU.
Wallace and WKU were forced to wait on word from the NCAA for a special hardship waiver – a ruling that, if upheld, would grant him two remaining seasons with the Hilltoppers.
Wallace waited patiently, and his request was approved – giving WKU and coach Willie Taggart another pass-catching option in an already deep and talented tight end pool.
“He’s coming and learning a lot quicker than we thought he would,” Taggart said. “I see him walk around smiling, he stops by my office a lot and he’s gaining confidence. He’s starting to enjoy football again and you’re seeing that on the field.
“I tell him and (sophomore receiver Courtney Dalcourt) and anyone else that went through any adversity that there are going to be bumps along the way, but keep your eyes on the prize. If he does that, he’ll roll right over those bumps.”
In addition to his playing ability – Wallace was ranked as the 29th best tight end prospect in the country by Scout.com in 2007 – the Bowling Green native knows a thing or two about WKU football.
Wallace, the son of longtime BGHS coach Kevin Wallace, knows the journey the Hilltopper program has taken in recent years. From a I-AA national championship, to an NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision transition right up to an 0-12 season – Wallace knows where Hilltopper football has been, and more importantly, he’s a player that Taggart says knows where the program could be headed.
“That’s great,” Taggart said. “I always tell (the local guys) that they more than anyone should be fired up to get this program turned around. Ryan played in a winning program here in high school and you know he knows how to win – and it’s a great opportunity for him and the other local players to come back here and help turn this thing around in their hometown.”
Knowing WKU’s history and having a longstanding relationship with Taggart obviously helped with Wallace’s transition into the Hilltopper program, but even more than that, Wallace has longstanding relationships with several players currently on the roster.
He was a high school teammate of former BGHS standouts Ryan Beard, Casey Tinius and Avery Hibbitt – and played against former Franklin-Simpson stars Dalcourt and Jim Murphree during his prep days. All that combined has made the past few weeks somewhat of a homecoming for Wallace.
“I’ve always came back during off weeks wherever I was and came back and caught a game here,” Wallace says. “There are guys here that I’ve known forever – and now to be able to play alongside Ryan, Avery and Casey – and even Courtney and Jim – is really a lot of fun.
“I like it a lot. It wasn’t something where I was coming into a situation where I didn’t know anybody, actually pretty much the opposite. I’ve played with Avery since fifth grade, I played against Courtney and Jim, I’ve known Ryan forever and I’ve known Casey forever.”
Wallace admits that he has some work to do yet this spring and later this fall to get more familiar with the Hilltopper offense, but says he’s confident that it’ll come.
And if it does, the player that folks around Warren County remember for his prep days may well become a player folks recall for his college career.
Things haven’t gone the way Ryan Wallace planned when he left Bowling Green the first time – but he says that’s fine by him, and he intends on making his return to BG a memorable one.
“I don’t look back,” he says. “I know we’ve got a great foundation here. We’re really young, but we’re gaining experience and the more work we put in, the better we’ll get.
“I love this place. I love being at home and love playing for coach Taggart.”