Levi Wallace’s football career is synonymous with the word adversity. He was a walk-on at Alabama. He was undrafted into the NFL. Despite climbing depth charts both in Tuscaloosa and in the NFL, Wallace hasn’t been the most noteworthy name among defensive backs in the game. That didn’t keep him from having one of the most productive seasons of his career in 2022, his first with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even that effort was met with adversity.
As was reported during the season, by The Athletic’s Mike DeFabo in November 2022, Wallace was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy in October the day before the Steelers played the Philadelphia Eagles. Wallace was recently featured by Steelers.com and writer Teresa Varley, recalling the events of his diagnosis.
“It was a challenge,” Wallace told Varley. “It just took some getting used to. But I never wanted it to be a crutch in my performance. So, it was what it was.”
Wallace woke up on October 29, 2022, with the left side of his face frozen, unable to so much as smile or even close his left eye. Bell’s palsy itself is a neurological disorder that prevents nerves in the muscles of the affected’s face, causing temporary paralysis or weakness. The disorder arrives without warning and its severity is fairly unpredictable.
Wallace was already ruled out of the Eagles game, appearing on the injury report with a shoulder injury. It was one of only two games he missed on the season. In fact, Wallace was right back on the field in the very next contest after the BYE week against the New Orleans Saints, sporting a new dark visor to shield out light on his left eye, which he still couldn’t close.
As previously mentioned, Wallace had the most productive year of his career in the black and gold. Wallace never had more than two interceptions in a single season as a professional, even despite playing in some talented defensive backfields in Buffalo. In 2022, however, Wallace came away with four, three of which came after his diagnosis – the first of those three interceptions was against the Saints to help seal the victory.
While it was reported, the situation with Wallace flew under the radar much like he has his entire playing career. But the veteran cornerback mentioned he had a locker room added to his support system that aided in his recovery and perseverance through the ordeal.
“I had a lot of support from my teammates and coaches,” said Wallace. “Whatever I needed, especially that dark face mask to not let the sun come in as much. They do a great job supporting here. Not too many people know I played with Bell’s palsy and was still recovering from it a little bit at the end of the season. It was definitely an interesting season. I knew it wasn’t more than I could handle, and I know that God was never going to give me more than what I could handle. Just a blessing to still be able to play with that impairment throughout the season.”
The Steelers have already added more veteran leadership in the defensive backfield, signing 32-year-old Patrick Peterson in free agency. Between the addition of Peterson and the subsequent loss of Cam Sutton to the Detroit Lions, the Steelers are expected to look strongly at adding to the cornerback position in the NFL Draft in April. Of course, how any of that changes Wallace’s role in the Steelers’ defense remains to be seen. What likely won’t change is the persistence that Wallace possesses, both on the football field and in life to overcome each and every adversity that comes his way.