By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal
Two years into his time at Ferris State University, Western Michigan Christian standout student-athlete John Waller’s hard work, talent, and good fortune have helped him make another positive change in his life.
And that change will benefit a state university as well.
Waller, who has played football the past two seasons at Ferris under the tutelage of Head Coach Tony Annese, will transfer this fall to the University of Michigan in order to attend the school and run track for the Wolverines.
“It looks like I will run the 60m, 100m, 200m, and the 400×100 and 4×200 meter relays,” said Waller, who could barely contain his excitement. “I went down for a visit a couple weeks ago and I just fell in love with the place. Ann Arbor is the greatest city I’ve ever been to.”
Waller has seen his share of cities, having grown up in poverty in the West African nation of Liberia.
When Waller was 12, while traveling on foot to the offices of Acres of Hope – with the hope that the organization could help him go to school – he had the good fortune to meet his future adoptive family, Angela and Darin Waller.
“That was the greatest day in my life,” said Waller. “I met them and decided I wanted to be part of their family.”
The Wallers, who were in Liberia looking to adopt a child, received a letter from John soon after they returned home from their trip. He was seeking a family in America and let them know that he felt a special connection to them when they met.
The Waller’s exchanged numbers and email with John, and soon enough they returned to Liberia to adopt him.
Waller went to New Era Christian until the end of middle school, and then attended WMC the entirety of his time in high school.
He was a force athletically each time he stepped on the field, court or track.
On the gridiron, Waller, who played for North Muskegon due to a co-op arraignment with WMC, was a blazing fast running back with incredible power and balance. By the time he was done, Waller was one of West Michigan’s most intriguing football recruits, deciding to attend Ferris to play for Annese.
On the court, Waller played on Christian’s 2010-11 Michigan Class D state basketball title team, which was coached by Jim Goorman.
But Waller may have been most impressive on the track.
During his first-ever track meet, Waller, who had come out for the sport almost as an afterthought, broke Christian’s 29-year-old 100-meter dash record. Later that season, Waller helped the Warriors to the Division 4 state runner-up track title.
Though he feels bittersweet about leaving Ferris for Michigan, he is very thankful for his time in Big Rapids.
“I learned here at Ferris that time management is everything,” he said, before going on to list all of the things he has to remember on the average day. When he finished, he said, “To get everything done, I have to stay focused on the reasons I went to (college) in the first place. That keeps me going, keeps me focused.”
Once he is finished with college, it’s Waller’s dream to be a professional athlete. He said he would also like to return to Liberia to help build a medical clinic.