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By Dieter Kurtenbach
Sun Sentinel
September 26, 2011

The days have become routine for Mike Wallace, but the American Heritage-Delray senior’s days are anything but typical. He’s at the bus stop by 7 a.m. so he can get to school, where he maintains a near-perfect GPA. He follows class with football practice. The difference between Wallace and other stellar student-athletes is what follows football practice.

The intimidating 6-foot, 210-pound defensive lineman is a dancer — a great dancer. He’s an equally strong singer and actor. He’s the lead in the school’s December production of “Cats” and has won a cabinet of awards for his performances. And after football practice, it’s time for rehearsal.

It’s a jam-packed day at school that eventually brings Wallace home around 9 p.m., when he is finally able to eat and start his homework. Most of Wallace’s days end in the early morning, and then he does it all over again.

Despite the demanding schedule, Wallace still succeeds in the classroom, on the football field and on stage. He has a unique set of skills and his excellence leaves those closest to him baffled. “It’s amazing. I don’t know about this boy and he’s my son,” said Debra Wallace, a single, self-employed mother. “It’s amazing how he can do all of those things.”

His coaches and teachers can’t explain it, either.

His answer? Passion. “All I want to do is perform. I want to perform on any stage,” Wallace said. “If it’s the football field, if I have to, or the main stage at the local college, I just want to perform.”

He wants to continue to both dance and play football in college. He’s not sure he’ll get the opportunity. And if it comes down to choosing between the two, he’s not sure he can.

In the meantime, Wallace goes from practicing with the petite girls in dance class to the 200-plus-pound boys for the highly ranked Stallions, and he doesn’t miss a beat in between.

“Any time you can stand still where you are and do a backflip … and land on two feet, I don’t know what else I can say,” defensive coordinator Greg Bryant said. “He’s dancing ballet and throwing young ladies up in the air and at the same time he’s throwing offensive linemen around.”

Wallace’s two, seemingly polar-opposite passions gave him detractors on the team, but it only took one run-in and a takedown of a senior football player to muzzle anyone who dared make fun of his showmanship. Wallace even serenaded the bully with a song.

Wallace came to American Heritage to succeed in both his passions, and eight months from graduation, it’s clear that he has. He transferred from Santaluces before the spring semester of his sophomore year. His brother-in-law thought it would be a better place for him to get a football scholarship, but Wallace was attracted to the school’s fine arts department.

American Heritage tuition costs more than $20,000 annually, meaning Wallace had to qualify for a fine arts scholarship to attend. Despite not having even half the training of a typical scholarship recipient, he was allowed to audition. During the audition, Brad Tremper, the head of the fine arts department, declared that Wallace was the most talented kid he had ever seen and awarded him the scholarship.

At first, balancing school, football and a full fine arts schedule was tough. Within a few weeks of starting Heritage, Wallace was overwhelmed and had frequent panic attacks.

He was ready to quit the football team in the middle of spring practice. Wallace said it was a great relief to him that Tremper, who is also the Stallions’ running backs coach, and his other coaches supported his decision to do so, but in the end, Wallace didn’t quit. His passion for both football and dance was too strong.

Wallace admits that the days are a grind, but he can’t stop for fear he’ll lose his chance to go to college. “I have to ace every audition I do so I can get the part and I can keep my scholarship,” he said. “I have to keep good grades so I can continue to play football. I have to do my best, to be the best, and keep everything I have.”

Wallace has turned down both Kentucky and New Mexico in hopes he can find a college where he can continue to excel in both of his passions. While he waits, he continues his extraordinary — routine — days.

“I tell him it’s too much on him, but I can’t make him stop,” Debra Wallace said. “And if he wants to do it, I’m 100 percent behind him.”

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