CANTON — LaShawn Wallace treasures every moment he can spend on the football field for Canton.
The senior running back runs around and through opponents, but he knows the one thing he can’t out-maneuver is time. Toting the football, he has left adversity behind while trying to run towards a legacy in his final season.
“This is more than likely it for me,” Wallace said this week, reflecting on a tough loss at Metamora on a cold rainy night last weekend in which he ran 10 times for 70 yards and a touchdown and caught two passes for 48 yards. “When it’s over, when high school is over, maybe I’ll work a trade, or maybe operate some machinery.
“I really don’t know. I’ve thought about playing after high school. I know it takes a lot. But honestly, these games we’re playing right now are what I’m focused on. They are still winnable.”
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They are winnable because the 5-foot-11, 175-pound running back has 90 carries for 598 yards and six touchdowns, plus another five catches for 112 yards in five outings. He’ll take those numbers into a game at Dunlap (3-2, 2-1) on Friday.
He is a bright spot on a 1-4 team (1-2 in the Mid-Illini Conference) that was very much in the game against Metamora until just before halftime, when the Redbirds started a surge towards a 54-20 win.
“What did I tell my teammates?” said Wallace, a Little Giants captain, of his leadership role following that loss. “We tell them to trust each other. You want to win, keep working at it if you want it. If you can beat adversity, you can beat an opponent.”
‘He was the guy’
Canton coach Nick Wright took over at the helm in Wallace’s sophomore year, the COVID season. The Little Giants had a starting running back who was serving a suspension for the opening game that year. So they turned to Wallace in his place.
“LaShawn was our next best option, he played that Morton game and we beat them, and he was a really big part of it,” Wright said. “We knew we had something special with him. He’s a hard-working good kid, so polite and respectful.”
Wallace had to bide his time as a sophomore in a rotation, but he came into his junior year last season at the heart of the offense.
“He was the guy,” Wright said.
Then a phone call came, and Wallace’s promising season was done.
Home is where the running back is
LaShawn Wallace has lived in Canton with Derek and Jennifer Watts and their children for the last three years now.
The couple’s son, Canton senior receiver/defensive back Dylan Watts, has been friends with Wallace for years. When Wallace needed a family to stay with, The Wattses stepped up, and it seemed a comfortable fit.
“He lives with them, they take care of him,” Wright said.
Wallace says, ‘It all just feels like being at home. I’ve been with them a long time. Dylan and I were friends before and always very close.
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“Now it’s just normal family stuff, hanging out, doing things together. They are always there to support me.”
It was Jennifer and Derek Watts who called coach Nick Wright in Week 5 last season with unwelcome news.
“The phone rang one night, and they said LaShawn was going to the hospital with stomach issues,” Wright said. “He had appendicitis. Devastating. That knocked him out the rest of last season.”
Wallace remembers that day, which ended in surgery to remove his appendix.
“I was so sick during the day,” he said. “Something wasn’t right. It was awful. But worse was standing on the sideline after that, wanting to play. So after the season, it took a while to (medically) clear me. I came into this season wanting to make up for everything I was missing.”
From JFL to Friday Night Lights
An emerging athlete as a kid, one of Wallace’s teachers guided him into football via the JFL. He tried track at Canton as a sophomore during the COVID year.
But he concentrated on football after that.
“He came into this year as our established starter,” Wright said. “He’s the go-to guy. Natural runner. Had a good game against Marengo in Week 2. He got us down to the goal line against Eureka.”
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They lost that Eureka game on the road, 25-7, but those points that Wallace helped set up remain the only ones scored against state-ranked, 5-0 Eureka this season.
“LaShawn has had games where he finds space,” Wright said. “He holds his own on the field, and we’ve faced four potential playoff teams.”
For Wallace, the reward from football is simple.
“Everybody works together,” he said. “Couldn’t run much if I didn’t have people blocking for me. It’s ‘What can we all do together?’
“I love the game, and I just like being around with everyone and competing with everyone.”
Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers Bradley men’s basketball, the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. He can be reached at 686-3206 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.