For standout high school athletes who end up at community colleges, the road to success in intercollegiate athletics can be daunting. Whether it’s the uptick in competition, academic difficulties, or the rigors of adult life, it takes a special player and person to take advantage of the opportunity that community college athletics provide.
By every measure, Cyrus Wallace was an athletic phenom at Dos Pueblos High. In his junior year, he was second in the entire CIF Southern Section across all divisions with 91 catches in 12 games and was named All-CIF first team in football. In addition, he captured Channel League MVP in basketball.
“We just used to throw him the fade or a jump ball because we had so much confidence that he would come down with it,” said former Dos Pueblos High head football coach Nate Mendoza, who coached Wallace in both his varsity seasons. “We had other plays built around just getting him the ball because of our confidence in his hands and route-running ability.”
At 6′3″ with soft hands and a sturdy frame, Wallace toyed with the competition and dominated physically to lead both teams deep into the playoffs. “Going all the way into junior year, I just relied on my ability,” Wallace said. “I didn’t really work out too much on my own.”
Wallace’s exploits on the gridiron and hardwood were beginning to put him on the radar of college programs, especially in football. All signs pointed toward a historic senior year for Wallace that would cement him as a Division 1 prospect.
But the summer before his senior season in 2017, Wallace tore his ACL. “Going through that put a lot in front of me as far as knowing that anything can be taken away from me at any point in time,” Wallace said of the knee injury. “It definitely humbled me.”
The devastating news was almost too much to bear for his coaches and his teammates as well, as they seemed to be losing the most gifted athlete in town. Wallace was unwilling to miss out on his senior season. Due to the nature of his ACL tear, he opted to avoid surgery and simply do rehab, which is largely unheard of, as conventional wisdom is to have reconstructive surgery.
“I thought … we’d have to plan around not having him that year,” Mendoza said. “But the guy rehabbed his knee so well and strengthened the muscles around that ACL ligament that his orthopedic doctor actually cleared him going into week four of the season.”
After missing those first four games, Wallace returned to action in a bulky knee brace, catching two touchdown passes in a 49-0 victory over San Luis Obispo. That led to a dream season for the Chargers, who advanced all the way to the CIF-SS Division 10 championship game, where they lost to Quartz Hill 26-21. Wallace made three unbelievable catches on the final drive of the game, but the Chargers ended up falling inches short of the end zone on the final play of the game.
“The things he was doing on a torn ACL are just unheard of and unseen. You just don’t see players perform the way he did and make cuts and moves the way he was making them,” Mendoza said. “He wasn’t as explosive as the year before as a junior, but even Cyrus at 60 or 70 percent was better than most people’s 100 percent. On top of it, his desire to win and compete on a daily basis just set him above his competitors.”
Despite the team’s success, college coaches were skeptical of Wallace’s knee — recruiting dried up completely.
“I was talking to some schools, and they found out about the knee and they kind of lost interest,” Wallace said. “Of course I was bitter about it, but I understand you’re putting money into someone and you want to make sure they are fully [healthy].”
As a young child, Wallace decided that he was going to take athletics as far as he could go. That commitment opened the door to SBCC, where head coach Craig Moropoulos provided an opportunity to extend his career.
“I didn’t know about the knee at the time, but when I recruited him, we found out that he had played all football season and all basketball season and then he had surgery in the summer,” Moropoulos said. “I thought it couldn’t be an ACL. You couldn’t have done all that on a torn ACL, but it was.”
The surgery Wallace had after his senior year of high school ensured better stability going forward. He took a grayshirt year to recover before fully participating on the SBCC football team for this 2019 season. He is now a key contributor at wide receiver with 31 catches for 354 yards and three touchdowns so far.
“The big thing is his character. It has always been real strong. His work ethic is real strong, so that helps his development,” Moropoulos said. “He struggled early because before, it was just like, ‘Go up, Cyrus.’ He was such a good athlete you would just throw the ball up to him and he would go up and get it. … Well, at this level, there’s a lot of guys like that, so he has learned how to be a better receiver.”
Since joining the SBCC program, Wallace has poured his heart and soul into his craft in order to become the best receiver he can be. The results are showing on the field, as he has improved from week to week and become a huge problem for opposing defenses.
“I feel like I got a whole lot better, especially … my first two games in comparison to my last couple,” Wallace said. “That’s all because of [SBCC wide receiver] coach Rob Adan. He’s got me so much better. We’ve got a lot of good players on defense that are giving us good looks all the time, getting everybody better.”
Wallace’s journey is already an incredible success story, but he’s not finished yet. His goal remains to land an offer to a four-year university. Once again, Division 1 programs are beginning to take notice. Said Moropoulos, “He’s getting a great education, he’s getting a great experience in football, and something good is going to happen.”