Students cheer Auburn's Jonathan Wallace during a special ceremony at Cary Woods Elementary
By Charles Goldberg
AUBURN, Ala. — Her students sat on the floor, shakers in hand. Everybody was there to celebrate Jonathan Wallace.
Cary Woods Elementary principal Karen Snyder explained the day to the kids.
"He's here to be recognized for some of the accomplishments he's made, and for being just so awesome. What do you think?"
The Cary Woods Elementary kids cheered the Auburn football player who was their student teacher, who became their mentor, who they called "coach" and who was, well, awesome according to those he touched.
Wallace was recognized Monday as a member of the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, a national honor in which the organization chose to bestow on him in person. The honor singles out athletes for their dedication and commitment to serving the community.
Snyder welcomed the ceremony at Cary Woods because "he's kind of a rock star" at the school.
"Thank you for giving me the opportunity to come here to Carey Woods and being a part of this small family...just to be able to give back," Wallace said.
"It's more about the future, and that's these kids. That's why I enjoy ... grow up to be whatever they dream to be, fulfilling those dreams for the kids who want to be something in life."
Wallace said that behind the microphone, totally unscripted because this was a surprise party.
"This was truly a humbling experience. I'm just looking forward to give back to the community and serve others."
Snyder said Wallace took his teaching internship seriously, and that started the first day. Wallace, on of Auburn's team captains, saw his teaching duties as a way to reach kids.
"Some of our expectations in here are to be responsible, respectful, prepared and safe," he said. "That's how we learn to engage with other people, interact with other people and have fun with each other."
Monday was his last day at Cary Woods. Tuesday, he starts at Auburn Junior High. Wallace left the school after "receiving hugs and notes from kids and teachers. The love and support here is awesome.
"It shows about how much people care."
He'll remember his first teaching assignment this way:
"It's exciting because I was in their shoes when I was a little kid, looking up to other people. To be on the other side of it now is mind-blowing -- how fast time goes by in that you have to cherish every moment. To be able to share that moment with them, and being called 'coach,' and being a mentor and a role model for them is just a humbling experience."
The Allstate Good Works Team Award is recognizing Wallace for his community service. He's involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, has served as a volunteer with the Boys and Girls Club and has been a youth mentor with Youth for Christ. He visits youth who are battling illness.
He's also a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy and a postgraduate scholarship.
Dr. Jared Russell, an associate professor of kinesiology at Auburn, said Wallace is an "exceptional student both in terms of his academics and student leadership. He shows remarkable curiosity regarding course materials and the application of learned knowledge in class to real-world settings."
Anthony Wallace, Jonathan's dad, had reason to smile Monday.
"It's a joy to see what he instilled into these little kids and hear all the comments from the teachers, and the principal," Anthony Wallace said. "It means a lot he's being recognized off the football field and into the community.
"It means so much he's here on a positive note to serve and to give. That's his heartbeat. It means a lot to me as a dad."
Jonathan Wallace always credits his family for his good work and wanting to give back to the community.
"It's exciting to see the little kids to know they have had somebody positive in their life -- somebody cares and loves them. I know that's Jonathan," said his dad.
Jonathan Wallace, once Auburn's quarterback and now a receiver, isn't a star on Saturday. Maybe he's something more. He's one of the team captains.
"As far as leadership goes, that captain part does play a role with Auburn University," said his father. "He displays that all of the time, everywhere he goes. He's a people person. He loves people."
Jonathan Wallace didn't come to Cary Woods as a football player.
"Jonathan is one of the most professional student teachers that I've ever had," Snyder said. "He came to me one of the first days he was here and said, 'I know you might be a little worried because I'm going to have practice, and worried about me completing all of my hours.' But he said he had a plan for it, and that was even before I asked what the plan was."
Wallace worked with the kids during the day and after school on Mondays because Auburn didn't practice then. Other days, he arrived before school began.
"When he redirects the children it's in such a kind and respective way. Children sense if they're respected by adults they'll respect the adults back," Snyder said.
"When he teaches a lesson they respond well to him. He's a big, tall guy, so he has to get down on their level and talk to them. He does that with ease."
Charles Goldberg is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him oin Twitter: Follow @AUGoldMine