MELISSA — Melissa senior linebacker Payton Wallace has made the grade to play in next January’s Blue-Grey All-American Bowl at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, an annual showcase for premiere high school football talent from across the nation. The 5-foot-10, 178-pound Wallace, a First-Team All-District standout for the Cardinals last year, was tabbed for the honor after his performance at the invitation-only Southwest Super Combine at AT&T Stadium, June 24-25.

There, Wallace had to impress NFL veterans Mark McMillian, Tony Banks, Ray Crockett, Chris Taylor and others – which he obviously did, posting the fastest 40-yard-dash time out of the 25 linebackers there (4.67 seconds); the second-furthest broad jump among the linebackers, (9-feet, 3 inches), and the second-most 185-pound bench-press reps among linebackers, (19).

Not only that, but out of all 198 competitors at the combine, Wallace nailed the second-fastest shuttle time — 4.11 seconds. And during live-game action, he caught observers’ eyes with broke-up passes and tipped balls. When the smoke had cleared, Wallace was one of seven linebackers singled out for recognition in the official post-combine scouting report.

“It was very exciting,” Wallace said at his home in North Creek on Aug 2. “I committed myself for a very long time.”

Wallace is the son of Aubrey and Aubrey Kollatschny.

“I love it,” Wallace’s father Aubrey said. “It’s awesome to see how good he is. And he doesn’t even know, I don’t think, how good he is. He can be even better.”

To get to one of the five Super Combines, Wallace had to shine at one of 22 Regional events held across the country starting in February. Wallace chose the Southwest Regional Combine at Plano’s John Paul II High School in April and, though he felt it wasn’t his best effort, advanced to the next step.

What did Wallace notice about the other Super Combine linebackers?

“Their energy,” he said. “When I do bench press, I like to be pushed by a group of people. … They were just behind you screaming — screaming your name and everything. It was a fun atmosphere.”

Wallace was Melissa’s Defensive MVP last season, collecting a team-high 66 solo tackles and 34 assisted tackles. He also recovered three fumbles, tallied three tackles-for-a-loss and picked off a pass. He’s also a Cardinals power-lifter.

“Payton is a great young man who has been working extremely hard this off-season and summer,” said Seth Stinton, Melissa boys athletic director and head football coach. “He will have a tremendous impact on our defense this season and we are extremely excited for him.”

“Honestly,” Wallace said, “I wanted to quit (football) my freshman year because I was so small. … So I committed myself my sophomore year and I was a little bit bigger. That summer, I completely dedicated myself to the gym. (My father) pushed me to gain weight.”

By the end of last season, Wallace said, he was up to about 168. “Now, I weigh 178 and I’m trying to gain weight more and more.”

Wallace credits a lot of his football success last year to playing alongside just-graduated, two-way Cardinal star Gunnar Murphy, the district’s Utility Player of the Year.

“He was very inspirational,” Wallace said. “He pushed me. After every play he would always push me to do better. I learned a lot from him, so that’s what I’m trying to do for my fellow teammates.”

Murphy played in a Blue-Grey All-American Bowl himself on Dec. 22, 2016, at AT&T Stadium.

A total of four Blue-Grey All-American Bowls are slated for December and January and all are played in NFL stadiums and coached by NFL veterans. Besides its Jan. 22 game, AT&T Stadium is also the site of a game on Dec. 18. Other host venues include Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, Jan. 6, and Everbank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 13.

Approximately 7,300 athletes started out this year trying to make it to one of these prestigious events. Wallace said his Blue-Grey All-American path began one night when he and his father were looking over linebacker stats from last year’s games and Aubrey suddenly said, “Look, you can do this. All you’ve got to do is push yourself.”

And that Wallace did.

Wallace’s father said though his wife doesn’t pay much attention to sports, watching Wallace is the exception.

“She loves it,” he said. “She absolutely loves it.”

Kollatschny added that Wallace is also an inspiration to his brother Bryce, 6.

“His little brother plays football and sports and he’s always, like, ‘I want to be big like Bubba,’” he said. … It brings us all together because we’ll wear our No. 25 shirts and support him at the games. We can’t wait for Friday nights.”

And that includes Wallace’s sisters, Juliet, 4, and Emily, 2.

Wallace looks forward to this season with the Cardinals as well.

“It’s good to know that, most likely, I’m going to be a leader on this team,” he said. “It sucks that we lost Gunnar but he taught me so much that I feel like I’m going to be a great leader.”

Grayson Collin Electric Cooperative and Dan’s Fresh and Local Produce of Melissa are sponsoring Wallace to help defray the $2,500 cost of participating in the event.