By Bill Sorrell
Bobby Wade has a way of keeping Buck Towner on his toes.
“He always comes by my office at school and messes with certain aspects of my office. For example, he will hide my keys and leave a clue to where they may be.
Another time he hid all of my pens around my office. That actually happens pretty much every day,” said Towner, defensive coordinator for the Memphis University School football team and assistant lacrosse coach.
“They are just silly little jokes,” said Wade, who becomes all business on the field, in the pool and classroom.
A junior, Wade makes straight A’s and has a weighted 4.8 grade-point average.
In 2016, he played on the Owls’ state championship lacrosse team, swam on the state championship swim team and played quarterback and free safety on the undefeated regular season football team.
“It’s a pretty stellar feeling knowing that you are a part of all these great things,” said Wade, who now has a collection of state championship rings.
A man for all seasons, Wade sees Nike T-shirts that read “No Offseason” and lives it.
“I play three sports and I try my best to excel in all of them but I also try to excel in the classroom. It’s very difficult for people to have the motivation to do it. I don’t have it by myself, my parents (Bobby and Helen Wade, Senior) stay on me all the time. I have been playing sports all year long my whole life.
I don’t know anything different. I love it. I love the sports and comradery, the hard work and seeing it pay off. There is not an offseason. It’s constant. I’m always working out, always trying to get better.”
MUS swim coach Brian Parker said, “His ability to play all three sports is not surprising because of his athleticism.”
Halfway through the football season, Wade became starting quarterback when senior Steven Regis was sidelined with a shoulder injury.
Wade (5-10, 183) passed for 378 yards on 24 of 39 completions (61.5 percent), two touchdowns and had an efficiency rating of 139.96.
He rushed for 318 yards, four touchdowns and averaging 5.7 yards per carry.
“He is a true double threat at quarterback because he is a good runner and passer,” said head football coach Bobby Alston. “Bobby is a very good athlete with good instincts in every sport he plays. His leadership is primarily by example as he is a tireless worker.”
MUS junior John Bolton, who is a cornerback and punt returner said that Wade “brings his superb running ability at quarterback on offense and hard-hitting smart play on defense. His strength is his running ability. At quarterback this past season he could take a drive by himself running it multiple times in a row and still gain good yards. He’s good at finding the open field and hitting with speed. He came in clutch when we needed him.”
At free safety, Wade made 39 solo tackles, returned three interceptions for 79 yards, broke up five passes and recovered two fumbles.
Despite playing half the season offensively, he was named to the Division II West-AA first team offense at quarterback, along with Regis. Wade was nominated all-state by the Tennessee Sports Writers Association and was named to the Best of the Preps All-Shelby Metro team. He shared school offensive MVP honors with wide receiver Maurice Hampton.
“That was special to me because I didn’t get to play offense but really four games of pure playing time. I was still able to make a difference. This season taught me although I had not really gotten practice reps, I was able to push myself and continue to perform and blessed to be able to do that. As a three-sport athlete it reinforced the fact that all the training that you do all year long whether it be for lacrosse, swimming or football, it prepares you for everything,” said Wade.
“My teammates were depending on me a decent amount because I was playing both ways. I didn’t have too many options because if I messed up or got hurt or something then we would have been down to our third quarterback. We would basically be on our third free safety. We had already had enough injuries this year with Matthew Rhodes and Evan Smith who are two amazing linebackers. I was really trying to play and keep myself strong and in shape for them.”
Winning the region championship, the Owls were 10-0 before losing in the first round of the playoffs to Baylor.
“I want to be successful in sports and have fun. You can only play sports for so long. You might as well try to get the most out of them. What you do in school can benefit you the rest of your life. It’s hard to have fun in school but with your friends you try to find a way to make it fun and get the work done in sports. A lot of times it is easier to work hard and have fun. That is what my Dad and my coaches have always tried to teach me, have fun and be successful,” said Wade.
Last February Wade began to celebrate state championship success when the Owls’ swim team won its first state title and first in West Tennessee high school history.
At the Tennessee Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association meet in Nashville, Wade swam the 100-meter butterfly, 100-meter backstroke, a leg on the medley relay and freestyle relay.
This year, Wade qualified for state in the 50-meter freestyle, 100-meter butterfly and 100-meter backstroke. He swam the 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly. MUS finished second to Baylor in the meet in Knoxville.
“Bobby is a powerful swimmer who has a solid technique. His strength is his power. He has improved his endurance with each practice,” said Parker.
Wade said, “Swimming is a lot different than other sports. In other sports, you are comparing yourself to other quarterbacks, other free safeties. In swimming, it’s just you and the clock. It’s all self-motivation. Mentally it’s probably the hardest sport that I know of because it takes so much focus. The smallest details make a difference. Hundredths of a second make a difference.”
Wade began to swim competitively when he was 8 with the Memphis Tigers. He made the Southeastern Zone team when he was 12. He quit competitive swimming to focus on basketball and baseball.
When he began to get bigger for football and was no longer swimming competitively, he said that he lost flexibility and endurance. His focus went to butterfly and sprinter events in prep swimming.
“It takes a ridiculous amount of time to be a competitive swimmer. Some of my best friends are competitive swimmers. They practice two hours in the morning before school and two hours in the afternoon after school Monday through Friday and have a practice on Saturday for 2 1/2 hours. They get Sunday off. It is pretty much like that the entire year,” he said.
Last spring, Wade got his second state championship ring. The Owls defeated Montgomery Bell Academy in the lacrosse state championship to finish a 15-3 season. Wade plays midfield and was named all-state and all-Shelby Metro as a sophomore.
Winning state was a blast said Towner.
“The group as a whole was so much fun to be around. There is not a doubt that Bobby contributed his piece to that team to the best of his ability by being Bobby Wade, by being himself,” said Towner.
“He’s an incredible athlete, hard working, dedicated, smart and fun to be around. He does what is best for the team at all times. He is an outstanding teammate. The Lord has blessed him in many ways.
“Nobody is going to out work him. His work is contagious to the rest of the team. He is always putting in the extra work in the classroom and on the field. He does the little things well on and off the field. He does not speak too much so when he does the team knows it is important, means something. He chooses his words wisely. Bobby is like having another coach on the field, letting me know what is going on when I may not be able to see something.”
With the lacrosse field longer than the football field, being in condition to sprint and change directions as well as cut and run long distances is vital to success.
Wade began playing lacrosse in the eighth grade which he said put him at a disadvantage.
“A lot of people who play lacrosse started when they were a lot younger. It’s pretty difficult. You can play with pure athleticism. To be good offensively and defensively, you have to put in time with the different skill sets to reach your fullest potential.”
Playing football and lacrosse mesh together well for the explosion; swimming and lacrosse for the endurance.
“I probably get in worst shape during football season because there is so much rest time,” said Wade. “Most people don’t know how physical and high paced lacrosse is. I am more sore after most lacrosse games than I am after football games. It’s a pretty rough sport.”
Wade played AAU basketball from age 8 to 14. He learned lessons that he continues to apply.
“We would play guys who were supposed to be our age. We were looking up to them and they are a foot taller than us. They had beards. We had to figure out a way to play them and we beat them a lot of times. Me, Zachary Street, John McBride, a couple of guys in my grade, we found a way to succeed. Playing against those guys who were bigger, faster and stronger taught me to be quick. My legs have always been pretty strong. That is a genetic deal. My change of direction is pretty solid.”
Football entered Wade’s world in first grade with flag football, then tackle since fourth grade. He had played quarterback since fourth grade and said that he has been “chomping at the bit” for another opportunity. He thought it would be the 2017 season but came a year early when Regis was injured on the second offensive series of the Ridgeway game.
“It was nerve wracking in the middle of the season. We had come all that way and we had beaten a couple of really good teams in Grenada and South Panola. I saw his shoulder limp coming off the field when I was on the punt team. I thought he was fine. I came back to the sideline and Coach Alston told me that I had to play offense.”
Hampton said, “When Steven first got hurt I was worried about what we were going to do with our offense but at the same time I was confident Bobby would come in and get the job done. Bobby is a great athlete. His athleticism showed as he led our offense while holding it down at safety to the end of the season.”
Regis encouraged Wade from the sideline.
“I would always try to take some of the pressure off his shoulders. I would tell him to get the ball to his playmakers and just throw easy competitions,” said Regis. “His composure impressed me the most. I would compare him to Dak Prescott (Dallas rookie quarterback who guided the Cowboys to a 13-3 regular season record, tied for the best in franchise history, coming in for injured starter Tony Romo).
“Being injured for half the season was incredibly difficult for me and I knew Bobby could also give us a chance to win our games so I wasn’t too worried.”
Wade’s thoughts taking over for Regis was whether he would have the gas to play both ways the rest of the Ridgeway game.
Wade said that he was more nervous about St. Benedict, the next game, because it was homecoming and the game had been talked up so much.
Friends, family and coaches told him not to worry, let the game come to him.
“Take what the defense gives you. Take what the offense gives you and not get worked up about it,” he said. Wade listened. His father had played football and MUS and Ole Miss and is a volunteer coach of the MUS eighth grade team.
“All the way from fourth grade I played quarterback and linebacker then I switched to defensive back in the ninth grade. The switch from quarterback to linebacker was almost impossible. On one side of the ball you have to be smooth and collected and on the other side you have to read and react and hit people all the time. It’s pretty hard,” said Wade.
Wade expects his role for the 2017 season to stay the same as 2016.
“Try to play both ways all the time and try to be a leader and encourage my teammates to play to their fullest potential,” he said.
Alston said, “I expect him to have an outstanding season next year.”
A senior who has signed to play football at Lafayette University in Easton, Pa., Smith said, “Bobby is a great friend and will be a great leader for MUS next year. He will out-work anyone.”
Said Bolton, “We will be back next year looking for another undefeated regular season and hopefully win a state title.”
Wade will not commit to whether he likes offense or defense better. “I love them both a lot,” he said.
There are thrills on both sides of the ball.
“There are certain times in the game you are coming up and the seas just part and you are standing there on one side with a running back from South Panola who runs like a 4.4 and jumps over you and can truck. You have to figure out a way to get him on the ground. It may not always be pretty,” he said.
Defeating South Panola and archrival CBHS were his biggest wins. “It’s hard to balance the two.”
His athletic career has not been without obstacles. He has had to overcome “terrible allergies.” Allergic reactions in the seventh grade got to the point he could not go to PE because his face would swell.
“It was either I quit playing football, basketball and potentially just swim all the time or figure out a way to push through or just start getting allergy shots and take a ton of medicine. I decided I wanted to keep on playing land sports. It was a struggle for a little while but my allergies have gotten a ton better. That was a big turning point. Seventh grade was a pretty bad year. I sprained my right ankle, broke my hand and broke my arm plus the allergies.”
Nor will he commit to his favorite sport.
“I grew up playing football and basketball and baseball and swam during the summer. By the end of football season, I would be ready to play basketball. By the end of basketball season I’d be ready to play baseball. By the time I get to the end of one sport, I am ready to go on to the next one,” he said.
Among his role models are former MUS and Ole Miss quarterback Barry Brunetti, now an assistant football coach at St. George’s, and wide receiver Stephen Almond, who ran track at East Tennessee State University and lives in Johnson City, Tenn.
“I was only four feet tall. I remember going out and looking up to them,” said Wade.
While Wade is an Ole Miss fan, he is considering going to Texas Christian University where his sister Caroline is a sophomore. He plans to play football and/or lacrosse in college. He is also considering Southern Methodist University.
His projected career path includes business, law, real estate or being a financial advisor. His father is a financial advisor and owns W Advisors Wealth Advisory Services.
At MUS, Wade is on the student council, “second-in-command” of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and is president of Hunters for the Hungry, a group that donates deer to the Mid-South Food Bank.
“Each deer provides 168 meals for hungry people in Shelby County. The group makes presentations to different groups and with donations the money raised through the Tennessee Wildlife Federation goes to processors. That is where the food comes from. It is a fun way to give back to the community.
I was talking to my Dad the other day, Hunters for the Hungry is my favorite thing to do. School work is not always fun, working out is not always fun. It is fun to be outdoors. I really love the outdoors.”
It is a passion that he shares with his father. They go deer and duck hunting together, “pretty much anything,” and fish.
Last year around Rossville, he killed an 8-point buck with a 155-inch mantle that weighed about 250 pounds.
“They don’t get much bigger than that,” said Wade.
With a full schedule, school work, athletics and trying to stay in shape, “it gets pretty stressful sometimes.
“When you get stressed, it is always good to pray. It relieves a lot of stress just knowing your faith in God can always guide you through what you are doing,” said Wade, who is a member of Independent Presbyterian Church.
He also reads the Bible and claims John 3:16 as his favorite verse. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosever beleiveth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
“I try to look at it (God’s purpose) as trying to use my talents and abilities to His glory to spread the gospel and be an influence on other people around me for the better,” said Wade.
Said Towner, “Bobby Wade is a great human being. You cannot ask for better character from a 17-year-old.”