Brett Wallerstedt was able to look around at his freshman class of a couple dozen athletically gifted young men at Arizona State University in 1988 and feel confident about himself because of where he came from.
“Some of them were more highly recruited or bigger in stature or faster or stronger,” Wallerstedt, a 1988 Manhattan high graduate, said. “But I came from a high school program that worked and had the off-season training over the summer that helped me understand right away that this is what it’s going to take to be successful at the college level.”
Two weeks ago, Wallerstedt found out he was going to be inducted into the Sun Devil Athletics Hall of Fame.
Wallerstedt had an extensive and successful stint at Arizona State. He redshirted in the 1988 season, but two years later when his redshirt-sophomore season came around he began his three-year starting career compiling tackling records that remain at the top of the school’s record books. He finished his career tied for the most solo tackles in program history with his former teammate, Nathan LaDuke, with 238. No matter where he was at in his career, he always managed to connect back to Manhattan.
Wallerstedt remembers his very first college tackle. He was a redshirt-freshman in 1989, and the tackle was made against Kansas State in the season opener at Sun Devil Stadium. Across the gridiron was former Wildcats coach Bill Snyder. It was Snyder’s first game as head coach. It was also a Kansas State tie that jump-started Wallerstedt’s career.
“Don Bocchi is really the only reason that I went to ASU,” Wallerstedt said. “It’s not that I went just for him, though obviously he was a big part of it, but I don’t think anybody at ASU would’ve recruited me.”
Bocchi was the running backs coach at Kansas State when Wallerstedt was at Manhattan High. Bocchi even recruited Wallerstedt’s older brother, Matt, who was also a linebacker, to Kansas State. Matt chimed in on Facebook to congratulate his younger brother on making the Hall of Fame with a funny post saying “congratulations to my brother for his induction into Arizona State’s Athletics Hall of Fame!! Pretty damn impressive for the second best Wallerstedt Linebacker out of Manhattan High.”
Wallerstedt, who is the kind of man to credit many people before himself, wasn’t going to leave that one alone.
“He put that on Facebook because he knows I’m not on Facebook,” Wallerstedt said, playfully. “He didn’t put that on Twitter. He knows better.”
Wallerstedt is content looking back on his career at Arizona State. His five years in the NFL with the Cardinals, Bengals and Rams were plagued with injury and when he wasn’t called back to training camp in 1998, he knew it was time to pursue a different career.
Wallerstedt wanted something solid. He could have gone down the path of coaching, but the thought of constantly moving was stressful. In 1999 he began his first stint working for the Sun Devils Athletics department as an account executive. He left in 2004 for private business in the real estate market, but returned again in 2009 and stayed until 2014.
Arizona was home throughout this time, and continued to be as he worked in the front office for the Arizona Diamondbacks before returning to Arizona State once again as general manager in the athletics department in 2018.
Bocchi, who works with Wallerstedt as the senior associate athletics director, was the one who broke the news to Wallerstedt about making the Hall of Fame. It was a fitting moment for Wallerstedt, as it was once again his Manhattan connection that propelled another stage of his career.
“As a player you never want to be in a situation where you think back, ‘What could I have done better?’ ‘What more could I have done?’ I never felt like I was in that position. I felt like when my career was over after my five years in the NFL, although my NFL career didn’t go the way I wanted it to, but I felt like I did everything I could possibly do in my time at ASU,” Wallerstedt said. “The one thing that stands out for me is the consistency. Once I was able to crack the starting lineup my redshirt sophomore year I was able to produce at a high level week in and week out. That’s the thing I think I’m most proud of.”
Wallerstedt accomplished plenty in his playing career. He was named team Defensive MVP twice and compiled impressive tackling stats. Wallerstedt even represented the Blue team in the Blue-Grey All-Star Game on Christmas Day in 1992. The two defensive coaches that game? Snyder and then-defensive coach Bob Stoops. That was the second-to-last game of his college career. The last was the East-West Shrine Game on Jan. 24, 1993. Wallerstedt was the defensive MVP.
Through all the accolades, Wallerstedt never forgot what he learned from Manhattan High.
“It’s not like everyone on the team was going to play at a Division I school,” Wallerstedt said, proudly of his Manhattan roots. “They might go to Division II or community college or even not play at all, but they understood how to build a successful program. I give a lot of credit to Lew Lane and coach (Butch) Albright and that entire staff because what we did in high school prepared me to have success because I understood real quickly what it took. I felt like I was able to separate myself very quickly.”