Football journey for Larkin grad Wahl has been an interesting one
Larkin graduate Alex Wahl's football career has taken its fair share of twists and turns.
Wahl played football his freshman year at Larkin as a wide receiver-safety. He did not play his sophomore year and found himself sitting in the stands with friends and watching the Royals' first game of his junior year under the lights at Memorial Stadium.
"I went to see that first game and said 'I have to get under those lights. It looks like so much fun,' " he recalled. "Something about the guys playing that night sparked me. I had to get out there, too."
Wahl indeed joined the team and was sidelined for a stretch while he got in the proper amount of state-mandated practices.
Wahl again played wide receiver and safety as a junior and moved to linebacker his senior season.
A year later, Wahl was on the roster of Upper Iowa University, a Division II school in the northeast Iowa town of Fayette.
But while at Upper Iowa, Wahl's path on the gridiron took several more detours. The fifth game of his freshman year he tore an ACL and suffered a fractured kneecap and missed the rest of the year and ended up leaving school completely for the following fall semester.
"I went to the fall camp and after a day or two I knew I wasn't going to be able to have the year I wanted to have," he said. "I took the semester off. My knee wasn't getting any better. My plan was to go back in January, but the knee was still jacked up. The fractured kneecap wasn't healing like it was supposed to."
That led to some dark days for Wahl. "I was down and out and depressed," he said. "I seemed out of it. I was sitting around at home."
But Wahl made a decision while at home that changed the course of his football career.
"While I was sitting at home a voice told me to go to the bookstore," he said. "I picked up the book 'Outwitting the Devil' by Napoleon Hill. It was exactly what I needed to turn things around. I gave my life to God and things changed from that point on."
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Wahl returned to Upper Iowa and had himself quite a run as a linebacker. Wahl was an American Football Coaches Association all-American selection this past season for a Peacocks team that went 6-5.
Also a two-time all-conference performer at Upper Iowa, Wahl, as a redshirt senior in 2015, racked up 109 tackles to rank second in the conference and 32nd in the country in that category. His 22.5 tackles for loss ranked first in the conference and seventh nationally. Wahl, also a 2015 Division II Conference Commissioner's Association all-Super Region 3 first-team pick, played in 39 games at Upper Iowa during his career and registered 313 tackles, 53.5 tackles for loss, 6 forced fumbles, 3 recoveries and 2 interceptions.
His stellar performance at Upper Iowa has opened the door to some potentially much larger opportunities, as in the National Football League.
Wahl participated in both the National Bowl in Miami, which featured Division II, III and NAIA football players from around the country and then took part in the Tropic Bowl in Miami which brought together Division I FBS players and a smattering of Division II talents.
"The National Bowl had about 11 NFL teams there," Wahl explained. "It ended up being beneficial for me because I met my agent (John Perez) there and it got me to the Tropic Bowl where there were 27 NFL teams. The Tropic Bowl gave me the opportunity to see what I could do against Division I talent."
Wahl said he met with the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns at the Tropic Bowl and noted the Jacksonville Jaguars called the head coach at Upper Iowa to inquire about him.
"The goal is definitely to play in the NFL," he said.
Wahl currently is training with former NFL player Don Beebe's House of Speed out of Aurora in preparation for an NFL regional combine at the Minnesota Vikings' facility in early March. After the regional combine, Wahl will participate in a pro day event at Upper Iowa later in March. If Wahl does well at the regional combine he could get invited to a super-regional combine that is attended by all NFL teams.
"This is my third or fourth week working with Don Beebe," Wahl said. "From when I first started with him to where I am now, I've jumped a lot with my speed, core and functional movements. It's getting me ready for the testing combine."
Wahl credits a lot of his development to his coaches and teammates at Upper Iowa. "The coaching at Upper Iowa was great and my teammates pushed me to be the best I can be," he said.
Wahl graduated in December with a degree in business management with a coaching endorsement. After football Wahl would like to open a gym to train athletes and also would like to coach high school football.
Wahl said he's not sure how the next few months will work out, but he's looking forward to the adventure that lies ahead.
"I think if I caught on as an undrafted free agent that would be kind of hitting a home run," he said. "I don't have any idea how realistic it is to get drafted. Hopefully I can put up good numbers at the combine and have a chance at getting signed as an undrafted free agent or at least get invited to a fall camp."
Mike Miazga has been writing about sports in the Fox Valley for more than two decades. Email him at email@example.com.