Discipline. Accountability. Trust. Relationships.
Those are among core characteristics Wesley Walls brings to the table each day as a partner in a Charlotte-based commercial real estate development firm.
The values Walls brings to Collett Development and other companies he has worked for since retiring from the National Football League, values that are fundamental to his daily business agenda, are also those that football helped instill.
Since retiring from the game following the 2003 season Walls has enjoyed a career in a field that has long piqued his interest. As an active player he dabbled in buying and selling farmland and recreational properties. Two years after the tight end caught his final pass he received his commercial real estate license and a successful post-playing career was born in earnest.
“My football career was long and some would say successful, but it was primarily due to my teammates, my coaches and the people around me that helped me be the best I could,” said Walls, who graduated Ole Miss with an engineering degree and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2014. “It is the same in business. You have to surround yourself with the people you trust. You have to be accountable and share the same goals and aspirations. I would say everything I learned on the football field, when it comes to building those character traits, has helped me tremendously in business.”
A second-round selection of San Francisco in 1989, Walls experienced winning a Super Bowl as a rookie. During his five years with the 49ers he was utilized mostly on special teams and caught only 11 passes. Injuries cost him the entire 1992 season and he played in only six games the following year.
Though his career was not unfolding as hoped, and certainly nothing resembling what was to come, Walls was receptive to everything going on around him. One of things that stood out during his time in San Francisco was the work ethic of one of his teammates. It was a work ethic that greatly influenced Walls, who after his five years with the ‘Niners played 10 more seasons as a starting tight end for the Saints and Panthers before finishing up in Green Bay. He had 450 career receptions, including 54 for touchdowns.
“I played five years with Jerry Rice in San Francisco when I was trying to learn how to become a professional athlete from that of being a college athlete, and believe me there is a difference,” said Walls. “I watched him attack every practice like it was a game on Sunday. Having that example in front of me, live and in person, probably, and he doesn’t know this, influenced me as much as anyone in my NFL career.”
Well before Walls took stock in Rice’s commitment he was influenced by his parents’ work ethic. Charlie was a maintenance man at Day-Brite Lighting and Betty spent 30 years at South Central Bell, starting as an operator and working her way up to engineer. Their work experience left quite an impression.
“They both worked hard every day, 8 to 5, and never missed a day,” he said of his parents. “They came home and provided for my sister and I and set an example that was like, ‘Hey, we get up every day and go to work.’ You are talking about blue collar, hard-working parents that wanted a better life for both their children. They provided opportunity and gave hope that I could achieve my goals.”
Those goals included being strong in the classroom as well as on the gridiron. In 1988 at Ole Miss, Walls was recognized as a National Football Foundation scholar-athlete and was also an All-American tight end after having been a standout linebacker for the Rebels under coach Billy Brewer.
His diligence in hitting the books paid off in many more ways besides the accolades he received from the NFF and the Southeastern Conference, of which Walls was a three-time all-academic selection. Rather, his education paved the way for success after football. For all the native of Batesville, Miss. knew his post-playing career might have come at age 27 instead of 37.
“Throughout college and throughout my NFL career having that education was like a safety valve,” said Walls, who has been married to his wife, Christy, for 27 years and the couple two daughters, Jennifer and Alex, and one son, Colton.
“Whatever happened on the football field, if I got hurt and could not play anymore, it could not take away the education that I worked so hard for. I always knew that one day I was going to walk off that field for the last time and I was going to go to work.”
The 50-year-old Walls, who frequently speaks to rotary clubs, church groups and the like, prepared for his post-playing career with internships and graduate courses during the off-season. Those experiences proved valuable in making the transition from the film room to the board room.
“My transition was easier because of that education and because of the work experience I got while I was playing,” he said.
That is the root of his message to young athletes who are about to engage in or are currently involved in the process of selecting where to go to college: Make sure that education and taking advantage of a university setting do not take a backseat.
“When you are making a choice to go to college it has to be more than about the sports you play,” Walls said. “It has to be about your education, the type of experience you are going to receive at that university and the relationships you are going to build. Those things are more important than what kind of team you are going to play for on Saturday.”
Few would know better than Wesley Walls who has followed a successful career in football with one in business.