Next to lobbing touchdown passes and scrambling for first downs, one of Chris Wallace's favorite pastimes is doing impersonations. Lately he has been getting a ton of requests for Forrest Gump. "Life is like a box of chaw-co-lates," Wallace will say in his best Gump drawl, eliciting laughter from his Toledo teammates. "You never know what you're gonna get."
Wallace's season has been pure Gump. After seeing spot duty the past two years, he became the Rockets' starter this fall and has led them to a 6-0 record—including last Saturday's 41-14 victory over MidAmerican Conference rival Northern Illinois—and a No. 24 ranking. In a 36-22 upset of Purdue on Sept. 6, Wallace threw for 254 yards and two touchdowns. For the season he has completed 124 of 237 passes for 1,521 yards and 12 TDs. "I've got confidence, and we've got some play-makers," the 6'2", 205-pound Wallace says. "I expected us to do this well."
Wallace has more in common with Gump than just collegiate gridiron success. He was born with severely deformed clubfeet, which left him in danger of never walking normally. "He was a beautiful baby, but his feet were almost green because hardly any blood had reached them [before he was born]," says his mother, Reda. "They were turned in, almost backwards. It was awful looking."
The day after he was born, in 1975, doctors at Community Hospital in Springfield, Ohio, broke bones in his feet and put them in casts. At six months Chris was fitted with Gump-like leg braces and orthopedic shoes. "My mom says I was always crying when I had those shoes on," he says.
Chris's wails were so difficult to bear that Reda would defy the doctors' orders by removing Chris's braces and shoes and performing her own type of therapy, massaging and manipulating his feet. "We weren't supposed to take the braces off, but I had a feeling," she says. "I would hold his feet and pray to God that he would be able to walk someday."
One day, when Chris was about nine months old, Reda took off the braces and watched in surprise as her son pulled himself up on a sofa and ran across the floor. "We took him to the doctor, and Chris ran across the office," Reda says. "The doctor said it was a miracle."
At Springfield South High, Chris played baseball and basketball, and in football he earned Ohio Division I co-player of the year honors (with teammate Dee Miller, now at Ohio State) during his senior season. But the story of his feet remained unknown to the public. Rockets coach Gary Pinkel says the first he heard of it was in a Toledo Blade profile of Chris earlier this season. "It hit home," says Pinkel, whose brother and sister are both confined to wheelchairs because of a rare genetic condition. "Chris is such a strong character and leader. You wonder how much that experience helped shape him."
Wallace runs with a noticeable pigeon-toed gait and does the 40 in an ordinary 4.8 seconds. But he has a strong arm and the wisdom to know when to scramble rather than throw the ball. "The only negative is that I go through shoes quickly because I run on the sides of my feet," he says. "Seems like I'm always having to get new ones."
Baby needs a new pair of shoes? For Reda, sweeter words have never been spoken.