Carter Wallis spent an unusual summer trying to figure out where he fit on Montgomery Academy’s football team.
“I started out at wide receiver,” he said. “I played wingback all summer and then I got moved again to halfback. I was all over the place. I think I’ve found my place now and it’s working well for us.”
Much like the Eagles, Wallis quickly settled into a new role as first-year coach Robert Johnson put the right pieces in the right places to transform Montgomery Academy from a better-than-average team into one of the state’s finest and one of only eight remaining undefeated teams entering the quarterfinals of the state playoffs this weekend.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but I think it all came together well,” Wallis said. “Our team is super close, so we took it upon ourselves to get used to Coach, keep working hard like we have and that it would all come together.”
To understand how a team could switch coaches and coordinators, change from a spread offense to a wing-T, replace nine starters on defense and still be unbeaten in mid-November, look no farther than Wallis, an undersized 140-pound senior who missed most of his sophomore season and all of his junior season with injuries, then emerged in 2020 as one of the Eagles’ most versatile stars.
“He had a big game (in the season opener) against St. James, catching the ball, and then we needed somebody to give (tailback) Jamal (Cooper) some rest on offense because it’s hard to play the two positions he’s playing and get all those carries, so Carter kind of became the guy,” Johnson said. “And the more Carter got the ball, the better he got. So we were like, ‘we’ve got to get him the ball a lot.’
“He can play receiver, he can play running back, he can play safety, he can be a walk-down linebacker. He’s not very big at all, just fast and tough.”
Offensively, Wallis is a change-of-pace back that provides a different look to the MA offense after opponents take a constant pounding from fullback Jashawn Cooper and the traditional running style of Jamal Cooper.
“I think the great part about our offense is there are so many aspects that as an opposing team you have to look at and try to prepare for,” Wallis said. “From passing to quarterback runs to running inside and outside, we try to make it difficult on people.”
Defensively, he plays safety in passing situations, but often walks up toward the line of scrimmage like an extra linebacker on running plays.
“I love our defense,” Wallis said. “The guys up front are awesome. They make my job really easy as well as the linebackers. I think all the credit goes to them.”
What makes Wallis’ story so intriguing is Johnson couldn’t meet with his team during the spring because of coronavirus, so he watched game film of the Eagles. Only he never saw Wallis because he sat out virtually all of 2019 with a broken foot.
“I had to have surgery on both my feet in consecutive years,” he said. “My 10th grade year, I broke my left foot toward the end of the season. My junior year, about seven plays into the season, I broke the other one, so I missed my whole junior year. I’m glad to be back.”
His role was as a slot receiver in 2018 and a wideout in 2019 and he rarely played on defense, so entering the 2020 season with a new offense created plenty of uncertainty. But with each passing game this season, Wallis seems to play a larger role in the fortunes of the Eagles.
“He’s a very good football player,” Trinity coach Granger Shook said. “First off, he’s very well coached and has a lot of God-given ability. He’s definitely someone we’re going to have to know where he is on the field at all times.”
In the first meeting between Trinity and Montgomery Academy in August, the Eagles held Trinity’s potent group of receivers in check. The pressure will be on Wallis and his secondary teammates to repeat the performance if MA has any hope of advancing to the semifinals.
“They do like to throw the ball,” Wallis noted, “and we need to limit the big plays, for sure. Trinity hits close to home. That’s a game you definitely want to win so I know everyone will be giving it their all on both sides of the ball.
“It’s definitely special. I know the tickets sold out in 24 hours. I’m excited to get to see them again. I was a little sad that I would never get to play Trinity again but here we are.”