MELISSA — In front of a noon-time assembly at Melissa High School on Thursday, May 18, seniors Tarek Wallace Jr. and Bryanna Hernandez signed letters of intent to continue their education and athletic careers at the collegiate level. Wallace, a starting linebacker for the Cardinals’ football team, will attend Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas, while track sprinter Hernandez will head to Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Wallace, a First-Team All-District linebacker for the Cards last year, was in on 63 tackles and had two interceptions as the team posted an 8-4 record with a playoff win.

“Tarek had an incredible year for us,” Melissa defensive coordinator Travis Roberson said. “He was one of our leading tacklers and leaders on the field. He was very hard working and coachable. His success this season has led him to earn a scholarship to HPU to continue his football career. We wish him all the luck in the world.”

Roberson also coached Wallace as a sprinter on the Cardinals’ track team.

“He’s had an outstanding career,” said Seth Stinton, Melissa’s head football coach and boys athletic director.“He made a lot of progress over the past four years. Really, this past summer, he came in and was like, ‘Hey, I want to make sure that I advance for my degree.’ So he did. I’m very pleased for him.’”

Said Wallace, “Being at Melissa was actually a really great experience. There were many hardships — not playing sometimes, not being that good. But then also, getting moved up freshman year and taking that responsibility. It’s been a great experience to be around so many great people, great coaches that will push you.”

Similarly, Wallace said he liked the way HPU teachers and coaches seemed to care a great deal for the student-athlete.

“It’s not just an environment where you go play football, pass or fail,” he said. “It’s not like that. It’s pretty much a big family, a big community.”

He said he intends to go in the medical field, but also has his mind on criminal justice.

“It’s amazing,” Wallace’s father Tarek Sr. said. “He’s a good kid. With Melissa, the school, providing what they did for him, everything, to me it’s been amazing. It’s been a blessing.”

Wallace’s mother, Pamela Williams, said, “It was an emotional day because it’s been a tough road at times. We didn’t know if he was going to get here. He did not play football his junior year, but he got back on track his senior year and had an awesome year. We’re really proud. We’re blessed that he’s been given this opportunity.”

The Division III HPU Yellow Jackets play in the American Southwest Conference.

Hernandez transferred to Melissa High School for her senior year.

“This for most would be very difficult,” Lady Cards head track coach Theodore Mackey III said. “But being the person she is, she fit right in with a very successful culture. For Bree, this wasn’t difficult because she came from Prestonwood Christian Academy, where she earned two TAPPS state championships in the 4x100-meter relay.”

Mackey noted among Hernandez’s achievements at Melissa: a fourth-place finish in the 100-meter dash at the Region II meet, “the toughest Region in Texas”; running a key third leg on the Lady Cards’ school-record 4x200-meter team; and helping send the 4x400-meter relay team to regionals.

“Bree has very high standards for herself, both academically and athletically,” Mackey said. “She is very fast, but describing her merely by her athletic gifts would not do her justice. She is also a very intelligent, responsible and driven student.”

“It’s been really interesting here at Melissa,” Hernandez said, “having to adjust from going to private school to public school. I love how it’s really small and you know everyone. I’m going to miss that kind of close-knit community.”

Hernandez’s mother, Eva, said her daughter’s achievement carries special meaning for many others.

“It is so important to me,” she said. “Bryanna comes from a huge Hispanic family. She’s got 53 cousins that live locally and Bryanna is the first that goes to a Division I college, to run at the college level. I’m very, very proud of her.”

“I loved everything about SMU,” Hernandez said. “The campus is beautiful. I loved the academics there. It’s just outstanding.”

She plans to be a criminal defense attorney and eventually a judge.

The Division I SMU Mustangs compete in the American Athletic Conference.