Cody Wallace centering his focus on football

In the NFL trenches, there is nothing quite more intense than the violent havoc and emotional fury that take place the moment the football is snapped. This is a place Cody Wallace has been in the middle of most of his football career, every day, every game, every play.

It all starts with him, since he's the one snapping the ball, something Wallace has done better than most over the past three years at Texas A&M as one of the nation's best college centers.

While spirit and emotions often overflow during these repeated clashes at football's Ground Zero, Wallace learned long ago to always keep his in check. There are much more important things to get emotional about than what takes place between the white lines of a football field.

Wallace learned this long ago during a tough upbringing as he watched his family disintegrate around him. And that's why now, several years later, he has emerged at the age of 23 as a mature individual who was Texas A&M's team captain the past two years, a member of the school's Leadership Council and a decorated Academic All-American.

And that's in addition to what he has accomplished on the football field, where Wallace was an All-Big Twelve Conference selection two years in a row, the league's Co-Offensive Lineman of the Year and a finalist for the Rimington Trophy as the nation's premier center last season as a senior.

With the guidance of his grandparents, Chester and Rachel Wallace, Wallace steered onto the right path in life, and he rode that straight-and-narrow hard to the position he finds himself in today as the 49ers' fourth-round selection in the NFL draft.

"Yeah, my grandparents have been huge, definitely," Wallace said. "I was very lucky to grow up with them. They taught me good values. They took me to church and everything. They gave me a foundation and a lot of structure in life."

Those are things that weren't provided Wallace by his parents. Or by his older brother, Marcus.

Cody was only eight years old when his father, Benny Wallace, died in prison at the age of 43 after years of alcohol abuse and trouble with the law.

Eight years later, Wallace's mother, Debbie, died of an illness that doctors couldn't explain. She hadn't been able to take care of her sons for many years, so the parenting responsibilities fell to their paternal grandparents. Today, Wallace will be celebrating mother's day with the grandmother who raised him, Rachel.

Cody was able to prosper amid their love and positive upbringing, finding his way toward athletic and academic excellence. Marcus Wallace, almost three years older than Cody, strayed in another direction.

Marcus Wallace got caught up in the wrong bunch of people and spent four years in prison on felony drug charges. He was released in January and still has months to go in a halfway house.

The hardship of growing up amid the struggles of those closest to him have done a lot to shape Wallace into the person and football player he is today.

"It had a lot to do with that," Wallace admitted. "Going through so much at a young age, it seems like I can handle more difficult situations a lot of the times maybe easier than most people. I typically don't try to stress over the little things and kind of just look at everything in a little bigger picture."

The big picture now includes a career in the football big-time with the 49ers, something that Wallace earned with his stellar career at Texas A&M.

His big senior season - when Wallace registered an incredible 131 knockdown blocks that resulted in 13 touchdown plays for the Aggies - earned him a ticket to the Senior Bowl, where he got to show his stuff for a week to Mike Nolan and the 49ers' coaching staff, who were coaching the South squad in that game.

"We were impressed with him during the week of practice as well as during the game," Nolan said. "We thought Cody performed well and it helped him. Cody is a very serious individual. He has had some adversity along the way, but I feel it has affected him positively and strengthened him as an individual. He is very intelligent and strong. He's not flustered. He's a good tough, intelligent football player."

Wallace looked solid during the 49ers' spring minicamp last week, working in at center behind starter Eric Heitmann. He's already entrenched as No. 2 on the depth chart, and general manager Scot McCloughan said he expects Wallace to challenge Heitmann for the starting job.

"That's why we drafted him," McCloughan said. "He's been a center most of his life. That's what we want; we want competition. With him and Heit, we'll let them battle it out, and whatever happens, happens."

Nolan said if he had to compare Wallace to somebody he knows by personality, it would be Jeremy Newberry, the gritty former 49er who was a two-time Pro Bowl center during his nine seasons with the team.

"Jeremy was tough, serious," Nolan said. "What Jeremy did was important to him. He was a no-nonsense guy when it came to football. Cody appears to be the same way. As Jeremy didn't, Cody doesn't back down. When I first met him at the Senior Bowl, I tried to kid with him a little bit and found out he's a fairly serious individual. When you face as much adversity as he has, life is more serious than kidding around."

And, to be sure, Wallace says he will be taking his football serious now that he's with the 49ers.

"I'll be out there playing as hard as I can all the time," he said. "I keep working and staying with my guy until every play is finished. I still have a lot to learn and a lot to try and improve on, but that's probably one of the main things I bring."

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