ARLINGTON — Melissa Cardinal Payton Wallace capped his high school playing days in a memorable way on Monday, Jan. 22, as a chosen participant in the Blue-Grey All-American Bowl at AT&T Stadium, an annual showcase for top high school football talent from across the country. Adding to Wallace’s big-finish weekend — he graduated early from Melissa High School on Friday and celebrated with friends and family afterward.

Four All-American Bowls are played each year and all are coached by NFL veterans and played in NFL Stadiums. Approximately 7,300 athletes started out last year trying to make it to one of these prestigious events. Wallace earned this trip to AT&T with an outstanding performance at the Southwest Super Combine, also at AT&T Stadium, on June 24-25 — one of five across the U.S. in 2017. There, Wallace impressed NFL veterans Tony Banks, Ray Crockett and others with his linebacker-best 40-yard-dash time of 4.67 seconds and a second-best broad jump of 9-feet-3-inches. Wallace also pumped out the second-most 185-pound bench-press reps among the 25 linebackers: 19. And out of all 198 athletes there, Wallace ran a second-fastest shuttle time of 4.11 seconds. To get to the Super Combine, he first had to standout at a regional event.

A two-time First-Team All-District linebacker for the Cards, the 5-10, 185-pound Wallace was Melissa’s Defensive MVP in 2016 and the team’s Linebacker of the Year last fall.

At Monday’s game, Wallace’s all-star East squad defeated the West, 28-17, rallying to win with two fourth-quarter touchdowns. Wallace played safety this night, a career-first, and was in on several plays. Former Dallas Cowboy safety George Teague coached the East and former Philadelphia Eagle cornerback Mark McMillian led the West.

Wallace’s parents, Aubrey and Aubrey Kollatschny, were on hand along with his brother, Bryce, 6, and sisters Juliet, 4, and Emily, 2, as well as other family members.

“It’s been really exciting to watch him,” Wallace’s father Aubrey said from their seats near the top of the stadium’s lower bowl. “He’s been anticipating this game, especially after the playoff run that we had with the Cardinals. He’s been talking about practices and how much knowledge he’s gained from all the NFL veterans. He said it’s been pretty cool. He’s getting to learn a lot.”

“We’ve really been looking forward to it,” Wallace’s mother added. “I think it’s an awesome way to wrap up his senior year. … Honestly, I didn’t think he would get picked but his numbers were just top-notch at those combines.”

Sitting near Wallace’s family was Seth Stinton, the MHS boys athletic director and head football coach. “Getting to play in any All-Star game is a tremendous honor,” he said. “I’m very proud of Payton. Obviously, this is the goal of every kid in the state of Texas, to make it to this stadium.

“Payton’s just an inspirational kid,” Stinton added. “His teammates love him. He makes plays all over the field and is probably the fastest linebacker we’ve ever had. It’s been a real treat to have him on our team, part of the Melissa Cardinal family.”

Also enjoying the action just seats away were Cards defensive coordinator Travis Roberson and linebackers coach Steven Howard.

Two team practices were held in the days immediately prior to the game, with the athletes staying together at a local hotel. Players received equal game time, often rotating each series, to ensure ample opportunity to exhibit their talent. To that end, the standard 12-minute high-school quarters were extended to 16.

After the game, in a midfield huddle with both teams, McMillian declared all the players “winners” and “blood-brothers for life,” and also encouraged them to “finish school strong.” Teague, still sopping from a Gatorade bath, followed with an appeal for players to “stay in contact with each other.”

“It feels great,” Wallace said of ending his high school career in an All-American Bowl. “And it feels good to end on a win. It’s been an amazing experience. They’re a great group of men. I love them.” As for his first turn at safety, Wallace said, “Two days of practice at a brand new position is very difficult. You can’t just pop into a new position after two years of playing something else. But it was a fun experience. I wouldn’t mind being a safety in college. It would be fun.”

Wallace said he plans to join the Air Force and, after his service, enter college — perhaps the Air Force Academy — and attempt to continue his football career as a walk-on. He and his fiancée, Libby Nesbett, recently welcomed a new baby girl into the world, Paisley Everlyn Kollatschny.

As Wallace walked toward the East locker room tunnel, he was smiling — as usual — maybe this time at what a fine few days it’s been.