The former Clemson standout opens up on draft day, his arrival in Philly and expectations for 2020
K’Von Wallace is sitting in his apartment bedroom. He’s in Clemson, South Carolina, not far from “Death Valley,” the Memorial Field stadium that two years earlier featured him at the back end of a national championship defense. He’s near Littlejohn Coliseum, where Wallace in December 2019 officially became the first person in his family to graduate college. And he’s barely hours removed from a virtual meeting with the Philadelphia Eagles, the NFL team that drafted him four days earlier.
Wallace isn’t the biggest name from the Clemson Tigers program. Just the school’s 2018 championship team included five future top-20 draft picks (A.J. Terrell, Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Isaiah Simmons), another three Day Two picks (Tanner Muse, Tee Higgins, Trayvon Mullen) and, biggest of all, consensus top 2021 prospect Trevor Lawrence. So when the 22-year-old safety first caught wind on Saturday that he was about to have an NFL home of his own, he almost couldn’t believe it.
The New York Jets were on the clock at pick No. 125, two spots before the Eagles in the fourth round, when Wallace got a text. It was from Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. And it was in all caps.
“I looked at it, like, ‘What does this mean?'” Wallace says. “And my agent was sitting beside me, I showed him the message, and he said, ‘Bro, you’re going to the Eagles.’ I said, ‘Well, you know, I’ve been getting text messages all day from teams that really ain’t mean much.’ And he was like, ‘You’ll see.’ And, literally, five seconds later, my phone rang, and it was a Philadelphia area code.”
At that moment, Wallace turned to his agent, Deiric Jackson, and they smiled at each other. He turned to his mom, Roxanne, who immediately got off the couch and started recording her son. Everyone else in the room followed suit, pulling out their phones.
“And then I answer the phone, and it was Jim on the other line,” Wallace says. “He said, ‘How do you feel about being an Eagle?’ And I’m just, you know, a burst of joy.”
So was the family around him. Someone let out a “Hallelujah.” Whispers and murmurs gradually intensified into cheers. Others started fist-pumping, throwing their closed hands through the air while trying not to distract from Wallace’s phone call.
“And I really couldn’t hear anything else he said after that, to be honest.”
Under the wings of Eagles legends
No one who follows the Eagles has to be reminded of the team’s love affair with another certain Clemson safety. Brian Dawkins, drafted 61st overall in 1996, went on to become arguably the most popular Eagle in franchise history, embodying the city’s raw tenacity during a 16-year career that landed him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There’s nothing inherently special about a defensive back swapping out Clemson’s orange and purple for Philadelphia’s midnight green. And Dawkins’ shadow, while finally kept at bay during Malcolm Jenkins‘ esteemed six-year stint with the Eagles, has taken victims before. (C.J. Gaddis, the last Tigers DB to be drafted by the Eagles, talked about growing under Dawkins’ wing but never took a single snap in the NFL.)
Wallace isn’t afraid of the B-Dawk comparisons, though. For one, he knows Dawkins personally. In fact, as he said on an introductory call with Philly media, he roomed with the legend’s son, Brian Dawkins Jr., during his first two years of college. He’s also close with Dawkins’ own mentor, fellow 1990s Eagles fan favorite Troy Vincent. (The two connected in the NFL’s executive office, where Vincent has worked since 2014 and where Wallace interned during his senior year.)
Dawkins and Vincent were different players — the former immortalizing himself as the on-field equivalent of a projectile missile, the latter serving as an interception magnet at cornerback. But both men, on and especially off the gridiron, came to be known for their selfless, sometimes-curiously pristine leadership. It’s for those reasons, Wallace says, he’s clung to both Dawkins and Vincent on his own journey to the Eagles — not so much as football strategists but, rather, as life coaches.
“A lot of our conversations are very, very personal, very, very heartfelt,” he says. “Whatever we speak towards one another stays between us. They know a lot of personal stuff about me; I know a few about them. And it’s just always love, man. It’s always something that you learn when you speak to those guys … It’s like a kung fu movie where they always finding that OG trainer — that trainer that is sitting on top of the temple, just meditating and floating in the air, and you want to just soak up all the knowledge and be just like ’em. And that’s how I feel with just those two.”
Wallace is clear he’s his own man and player. But he’s just as clear he wants to “pick their brain to get bits and pieces of how to become a better man, person, husband, father, son of God” — everything. He talks repeatedly of working toward his “why” — his motivation for life in and beyond football. Two longtime Eagles stars, including the big one from his alma mater, just happen to be his ideal role models.
“They made it in Philly,” Wallace says, “and they’re legends in Philly because of their heart. And the heart that they have is exactly what Philly fans need. And that’s why I feel like I’m a perfect fit as well.”
‘I’m a hunter’
K’Von Wallace isn’t a “Philly guy,” at least in the literal sense of the term. He was born in Richmond, Virginia, and he grew up a Green Bay Packers fan. (“I’m not a local type of person,” he says. “I gotta be different in my choices I make.”) But it’s that different mindset — that confident-bordering-on-resistant attitude — that he thinks makes him right at home with the Eagles.
“It’s all about being a dog,” he says. “They go by that dog mentality, and they go out there and just work. Everything has gotta be earned. Nothing is given in Philly. The fans are going to be very, very loving and kind and heartwarming to you, and that comes with a lot of cons as well, because if you cross some fans, they going to let you know how they feel … Playing for the Philadelphia Eagles, man, it’s a blessing. Coming from this type of family I have, this type of background I have, the Eagles seems like a perfect fit.”
Truth be told, Wallace’s upbringing probably prepared him for any market.
As a toddler, he and his mother lived in Creighton Court, a public housing community that’s since been tabbed for demolition — but only after years of densely packing crime and poverty into its worn brick buildings. (The average family at Creighton makes just over $9,000 … per year. The area has been called “the equivalent of cinder block shoes” for its residents.) He didn’t meet his father, Kevin, until he visited him in prison at age 6. He kept himself busy at a nearby Boys & Girls Club until it closed due to a lack of funding. By the time his family moved to Highland Springs a few years later, he’d made football his consistent outlet. Like too many others with similar backgrounds, he saw his athleticism as a ticket out.
Now, with the ticket officially punched, he’s entering an NFL locker room with a fearlessness not often seen in rookie mid-round picks, let alone those adjusting to the pros during a pandemic-shortened offseason.
“Every single person on that roster is gonna get to know K’Von for who he really is,” Wallace says. “I’m not a guy who just sits back and waits for a guy to approach him. I’m an attacker. I’m a hunter. I’m a leader. And I really feel like, born July 25 and being that lion, you gotta go get what you want. And I wanna earn each and every one of those players’ respect … Whether I’m starting, special teams, I earned this right to even be drafted, and I feel like me earning that came with a bunch of guys respecting me, coaches believing in me, and that’s something I gotta take to this organization, bringing a championship swagger. No matter if you’re playing or not, you’re still being a leader.”
The next Wolverine
It’s not hard to see Wallace is a natural-born and bred competitor.
“I just wanna bring that type of mindset that I belong,” he says. “It ain’t just about me dominating one-on-ones. It’s about competing for my position, competing for somebody else’s spot and, at the end of the day, you gotta take food off another grown man’s plate. That’s what this game is about. It’s a business. I have that type of mentality. I have that type of dog mentality.”
If it sounds abrasive or — coming from someone with zero NFL snaps — cocky, consider what Wallace says next: “But I’m a guy that’s gonna listen first. I’m a guy that’s gonna learn first, grab all the older guys and soak up the knowledge. And if I have to take a back seat to somebody that earned it, then so be it. They gonna get all my support regardless.”
It’s not so different from his approach to his first paycheck.
“I’m blessed by God, knowing that this money’s going to come, and I’m gonna have a lot of it,” he says. “Nobody in my family ever had this type of money. This is gonna be some type of generational wealth when it comes to K’Von Wallace money … but one of my priorities is definitely to get that Boys & Girls Club up and running. I’m gonna try to take care of my mom. She’s invested everything in me, so I’m gonna make sure she feels loved. And (then) continue to motivate the youth, because even though you got this money, are you really helping people? That’s not just buying somebody a car, it’s not just buying somebody a house … It’s about motivating, it’s about hustling, it’s about inspiring.”
A dog on the field. A selfless leader off it. That’s who he wants to be.
And no, he confirms with a laugh, you wouldn’t be wrong to see the Brian Dawkins comparisons here.
Matter of fact, Wallace is tying himself to the Eagles legend even more than fans might realize. An avid fan of Marvel Comics’ Wolverine, Dawkins famously went by “Weapon X,” the name of the fictitious experiment that turned his favorite character into a ferocious, metal-clawed warrior. He darn near considered his on-field persona an alter ego, even crawling out of the Lincoln Financial Field tunnel like an animal.
Wallace’s profile picture on Instagram is already a comic of himself as Wolverine. Just wait until you hear what else he has planned.
“Oh, I’m spreading the rumors now,” he says of his future NFL nickname. “So ‘Gulo,’ in Russian, right? They got a specific language, and they really respect the wolverine, the actual animal, and they nicknamed them ‘Gulo.’ It’s basically, like, this fierce animal that doesn’t go out his way to be aggressive but is ready to attack when need be. They can sustain any harsh weather. They always travel alone, they never really travel in packs … It’s a fascinating creature. I actually saw a video one time where a 30-pound wolverine takes down a 250-pound moose. And I watched him jump from the ground onto the moose’s face and pull him down and kill him.”
That, Eagles Nation, is your new safety. The Gulo himself.
Born to wear green
Wallace isn’t sure if he’ll go the full distance and replicate Dawkins’ game-day entrance (“I don’t really know how a Gulo moves; I just know they on all fours and they have the strength of a bear”). But make no mistake: He’s all in on being an Eagle.
From the blue-collar background to the Dawkins and Vincent connections to the mere fact Philly “believed in me to be here,” he feels as though he was destined to wear green. (Literally, too. Asked if he’d consider taking a page out of new teammate Jalen Mills‘ playbook by dying his hair green, Wallace says he plans to color at least one of his braids.)
Within days of getting drafted, Wallace fielded calls from head coach Doug Pederson, new secondary coach Marquand Manuel and special teams coordinator Dave Fipp. He got welcome messages from Mills and Darius Slay, the Pro Bowl corner acquired via trade this offseason. (“The only person I’m really, really trying to talk to,” he jokes, “is the equipment manager,” who will help him get his jersey and number finalized.) The only thing left, until travel restrictions are loosened and he’s able to relocate to Philly, is continuing to learn his teammates, his coaches and his defense — all from the confines of his Clemson apartment.
And when the time finally comes for him to take the field?
“When the lights are on, I shine.”
Those words are from Wallace’s opening call with Eagles media. And they weren’t presented without evidence. At 22, Wallace has already been a part of two championship teams, and in 2019, he came within one win of a third.
The Eagles, meanwhile, are three years removed from their first Super Bowl victory in franchise history. They’re not even two months removed from bidding farewell to Malcolm Jenkins, who was as much a spokesman for the city as he was the Philly defense.
It might be a tall order to ask Wallace to fulfill even one of the voids left by Jenkins. But a better order might be this: Asking him to be K’Von Wallace. The rookie may end up in a starting job, playing alongside the likes of Mills, Slay and Rodney McLeod under the adoring eye of Jim Schwartz, his draft-day messenger. He may just as well end up watching and learning.
In any scenario, he seems incapable of being anyone other than himself. And that, by all accounts, is a good thing.
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