Spreading his love of the game

Wallen, a former Ravens’ standout, hopes to engage with youth in Uganda

Summers often present lighter workloads for college football players as they prepare for the rigors of balancing academics with athletics during the fall.

Drew Wallen is the exception.

Wallen, a 2014 Auburn Riverside High School graduate and Central Washington University football player, is busy arranging a mission to Africa – and the malaria and typhoid pills and yellow fever shot that come with it – through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

As the 20-year-old Wallen, who will be a redshirt sophomore this upcoming season, explained it, he was sitting in church during a sermon about mission trips. He said he “felt God urging” him to go and sent his pastor from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes a text during church, asking him about mission possibilities. In May, Wallen was informed that someone had pulled out from a trip to Africa, and he sought to take his place.

Wallen said the biggest challenge has been fundraising. He needs to raise $2,700 to help with travel and medical expenses by July 3. As of last week, Wallen estimated that he was $900 short of his goal, but felt confident he would be able to raise that much.

He flies July 9 to Paris before taking a connecting flight to the East African nation of Uganda.

“The whole purpose is we’re bringing soccer balls and volleyballs to 11 different villages in Uganda,” Wallen said. “The whole point is going down there and playing sports with the kids.”

He said there were plenty of reasons, ranging from missing his girlfriend’s sister’s wedding and multiple birthdays, to skip the trip. But the opportunity to “spread some good” and gain perspective outweighed them.

“I want to see what the reality is for others out there,” said Wallen, who leaves Uganda on July 22. “I live a privileged life with two parents who love me, and I’m getting to play football on scholarship. I don’t know what I really want to do in life. I’m hoping for some sign of God or an epiphany.”

He thought after high school it would be a career in broadcasting. But after having a sports show on CWU’s campus radio station, along with calling high school, minor-league soccer and Wildcats’ men’s and women’s basketball games, Wallen said he became disillusioned with broadcasting’s nontraditional work schedule and travel.

“I want that consistency,” he said. “I kind of lost the fun of it all. It’s pretty intense and pressure-packed. You’re working weird hours all of the time. I’ve got to pick a career that bodes for a good life.”

Not that Wallen minds change. On the football field, he has embraced new defensive coordinator Scott Power’s ways. The coach plans to transition the Wildcats to a traditional 4-3 base defense to replace the 30 flex that Payam Saadat favored. Saadat now is the defensive line coach at Cal Poly.

“I love the move and the new defensive coordinator,” Wallen said. “If I was a defensive coordinator, this is the defense I would run. It’s like a full-court press in basketball – it’s pressure all of the time.”

Wallen, who is listed at 6-foot-2 and 188 pounds, said he was limited to special teams play in 2015 as the Wildcats finished with a 5-5 record, but is confident he will compete for the starting free safety position this year because the system, which utilizes two high safeties, is a better fit for his skills.

Much of the credit for his confidence, Wallen said, should be attributed to Auburn Riverside coach Bryant Thomas and his staff.

“I learned a ton from him,” said Wallen, who was the South Puget Sound League North 4A Defensive Back of the Year as a senior. “I guess the biggest thing was just to win. That guy just loves to win. He’s not with you if you’re not into winning. I caught onto that. That got me ready for college football with that hard-nosed coaching.”

Of course, Wallen will apply a different tactic when he is instructing youth in Uganda.

“I hope I can just put a smile on a kid’s face,” he said. “Fun is something we can all have. Hopefully, when we leave the equipment there we can bring these kids the joy of athletics to their country. Hopefully, it can last them longer than the two weeks we’re there.”