Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2012, 8:26 pm

Quietly, SAU's Wallace having an explosive season on defense

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By Tom Johnston, tjohnston@qconline.com

Jeremy Wallace is the Teddy Roosevelt of the St. Ambrose University football team's defense.

Roosevelt was famous for his saying "speak softly and carry a big stick.''

Wallace employs his own spin on that motto, at least in his teammates' eyes.

"He is always where the ball is,'' said senior defensive lineman Jake Hemmen of Wallace. "He's not a vocal leader; keep your mouth shut and go lay the wood. He's really the leader of our defense. Without him, we wouldn't be in the same situation we are in now.''

Where the nationally 8th-ranked Bees (9-1) are is in the first round of the NAIA Football Championship Series, today hosting No. 10 Southern Oregon University (8-2) at Brady Street Stadium at 1 p.m.

The Wallace-led defense will have its hand full against the top offense in the country in terms of yardage (657) and points (54.4) per game.

However, with Wallace in the middle at his linebacker spot, the Bees have been pretty good on that side of the ball. SAU allows 323 yards and just 16.3 points per game and provide plenty of support to an explosive Bee offense.

Wallace has put up some incredible number of his own. He leads the team with a whopping 123 tackles, including team highs in solo stops (51) and assists (72). While he is fourth in the country in total tackles, he doesn't let those number define him or change him.

"Every time after games, if you ask me what my numbers were that day, it's always below what they usually are,'' said the humble Wallace. "It doesn't feel like I'm doing what I'm doing. I just feel like I'm out there doing my job. ... It's not something I focus on or think about all the time. I'm not a big numbers guy, but it's a nice reward.''

For the soft-spoken Wallace, a 20-year-old business major, every Saturday is just business-like. There's no Saturday maniac on the field; he is just as mild-mannered during a game as he is before or after it. No histrionics to get his team riled up, no cheap shots on foes to make a point.

"He's as good as I've seen here in my 19 years as coach,'' said Jeff Girsch, SAU's defensive coordinator. "Jeremy is good against the run, he's good against the pass. He has great instincts to the football and is such a great athlete and is tough as nails.''

Wallace has shown that right from his first days on campus. While playing junior-varsity ball and getting some varsity special teams play, Girsch said the coaching staff knew they had a good one. The only problem was that "we were loaded at safety and linebacker,'' according to Girsch.

Still, Wallace jumped right in last season and led the Bees in tackles with 85 during his first year as an outside linebacker, moving up a row from his original safety position after he started getting bigger physically. As it turns out, he was moved to his third position of his collegiate career. Girsch said they needed to move him inside to "keep teams from running away from him.''

"We put him in the middle and let him run either way to find the ball,'' said Girsch, of the move that transpired just days before the season opener. "He struggled that first game when he had four tackles, but then he really took off after that. What he has done now is unheard of.''

Since that first game, his low for tackles is nine and had a high of 19 just two weeks ago vs. William Penn.

The hard work comes naturally for Wallace, the junior from New Lenox. He has helped build himself up by working a construction job last summer.

"It was rough doing the manual labor,'' said Wallace. "It definitely helped my game.''

That is showing on the field. His efforts also are appreciated by his teammates.

"Having him back there is a good feeling for us and the rest of the team,'' said Jake Hemmen. "It gives you a little reassurance that he's always going to be where the ball is and that if one person misses a tackle up front, Jeremy is going to be there to clean things up.''