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Zach Wallace: Balance of athletics and academics ‘made the decision for me’

08/03/2017 3:34 pm

Zach Wallace: Balance of athletics and academics ‘made the decision for me’

Aug 3, 2017 | Catalyst | 1 comment

Zach Wallace has known most of his life — “since I was little”— what path he wanted to pursue into adulthood, but it may not be what you’re thinking. The Rockford native says his formative moment was visiting his uncle’s Elgin law office as a boy.

“History was always my favorite subject, and then I got into government,” he said. “My uncle would always get me books to read, and finally I actually got to go to work with him at his office.”

Zach graduated from Rockford University with a degree in political science in May, and is headed to the Chicago-Kent College of Law this fall. That’s his dream – “as nerdy as it is,” Zach suggested modestly in a short interview the week after graduation. After breaking records and earning dozens of recognitions as a star forward for the Rockford Regents Men’s Basketball team, he is ready to trade the hardcourt for another kind of court.

“I always wanted to play, but I didn’t necessarily want to go far away to play, if that makes sense,” he said of his decision to be a student-athlete. “When I came here and saw that there would be the opportunity to have a balance between having a life and being a student and also playing sports, that kind of made the decision for me.”

Zach, a standout basketball player at Belvidere High and Berean Christian schools, made up his mind to attend RU after visiting campus, sitting in on some classes, and chatting with professors and coaches who “really seemed to care about the students.” Four years later, he is leaving with friendships formed through both academics and athletics, along with fun memories of having lunch with his entire class and picking up on-campus games of disc golf with friends.

“I’d say my favorite thing about Rockford University as a whole is just the community,” he said. “Whether it was basketball, classes, or activities we had around campus, you get to meet a lot of people because it’s smaller and everyone’s really friendly.”

His last season playing for the Rockford Regents, Zach scored both his 1,000th and 1,500th career points, while also making repeat appearances to the dean’s and distinguished scholars lists those final two semesters. Even as he was lauded for his performance on the court, Zach studied his way onto the athletic director’s and National Association of Basketball Coaches’ honor rolls, received the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference’s Scholar-Athlete Award and was named to the Chi Alpha Sigma National College Athlete Honor Society. Asked how he managed the heavy workload, his reply is characteristically humble.

“It definitely got challenging at times, but what I found was everybody gave you opportunities to manage it,” he said. “My teachers were very understanding, and they kind of knew what we were going through. And the coaches—‘school first’ is what they always said, and they made sure before we did anything athletically, we were squared away academically first.”

Just in his last year at RU, Zach was named a Jostens Trophy finalist, First Team Academic All-American, Second Team All-Central Region, First Team Academic All-District, First Team All-NACC, NACC Defensive Player of the Year, NACC Men’s Basketball Student-Athlete of the Week and D3 Men’s Basketball HERO of the Week. He led the NACC in scoring, rebounds and shot blocks in his final season, and is leaving RU as the holder of three school records—career field goal percentage and blocked shots in a season and career. With one accolade after another, it must be hard to pick a favorite, but Zach doesn’t hesitate.

“The one recognition I received that I was proudest of was when I got the Academic All-American Award, because I wanted to be the best student I could be and the best athlete I could be,” he said.

After law school, Zach says he is considering work as a criminal defense attorney, but at the moment he is more sure of where he wants to practice than what.

“Ideally Rockford,” he said. “This is where I grew up—pretty homey.”

Watch an extended interview with Zach Wallace on our Rockford University YouTube page: