Connor Waltz ’23 came to Kansas Wesleyan as a football player.
He left as so much more than that.
Waltz, originally from Niceville, Fla., graduated this month with his degree in Business Management and is off to serve as the recruiting creative content coordinator for the United States Military Academy football team, known worldwide as Army West Point.
“Honestly, it’s kind of surreal. It’s one of those things where I started doing this and I had no idea where I was going to wind up,” Waltz said. “Football is awesome, but getting to tell a story about one of the oldest brands in America, that’s awesome.”
Coming out of high school, Waltz sent his football highlight reel out to multiple colleges and universities. He had twice torn his ACL and thought his football playing days were done. But to his delight, Kansas Wesleyan came calling.
“When I stepped foot on Kansas Wesleyan’s campus, it just felt special,” Waltz said. “I was able to find my AND at Kansas Wesleyan. I came here and I was just a football player. I didn’t know anything else. But through the guidance and opportunities President (Matt) Thompson and Dr. (Trish) Petak and all the other administration and staff at Kansas Wesleyan have provided me, I was able to find out that I am an excellent student.”
Redshirted his freshman year in 2019, he played in five games in the 2020 season before suffering a career-ending injury. However, his life and its trajectory had already begun to change.
With COVID-19 shutting everything down, Waltz found himself confined to a room. Already fond of the graphics program Photoshop, he decided that, with nothing else to keep him occupied, he would dabble more frequently to see what he was capable of.
His first graphics were elementary in scale and design, but that did not keep him from continuing. Instead, he saw what the football coaches at Kansas Wesleyan were putting out and tried to see if he could better it.
Retired from playing football, he was instead helping the team in other ways, assisting David Toelle, KWU’s sports information director, with recruiting content, social media graphics and video boards, among many other things.
Those duties, and a connection with Matt Drinkall, former KWU head football coach and offensive coordinator, led him to an internship with Army West Point last year. Now in his fifth season on the Army Post, Drinkall has been promoted to co-offensive coordinator for the Black Knights.
His work so impressed those at West Point that when an opening came up on their civilian staff, they knew whom they wanted to join the team. Meanwhile, Waltz was far from done as a student at Kansas Wesleyan. He was recruited to the DECA program as a junior by head coach Petak.
DECA is an organized business competition that provides students with problems and requires them to present solutions, with varying amounts of time to prepare, sometimes as little as 30 minutes.
“Connor has always been a hard-working and diligent student; he has a high drive for success,” said Petak, associate professor of Business and Accounting. “He is a student whom I asked to compete in DECA after seeing his high-quality work in the classroom. His business acumen, attention to detail, dedication to academics and personality is a recipe for DECA success.”
Waltz and his partner, Trey Duffey, took first in the state and second in the world last year in Sports & Entertainment Marketing, as well as International Marketing.
“That’s when Trey and I started feeling like, ‘We can do this,’” Waltz said.
A year later, they fumbled their way through the state competition, taking second in International Marketing and third in their main event, Sports & Entertainment Marketing.
“We fought through some adversity this year,” Waltz said. “There was one of those moments where we were like, ‘Oh, shoot. What’s going on?’”
Going to this April’s DECA International Career Development Conference in Orlando, Fla., Waltz and Duffey made all the adjustments necessary. They worked with Petak, refining their system. It culminated in a world championship in Sports & Entertainment Marketing.
“Trey said it best: As much as we like to think of sports as a competition, business is just as much of a sport as playing football or basketball, volleyball or soccer or softball. It’s competitive,” Waltz said.
“We’ll miss Connor at KWU, but I’m so proud he’s taking his many talents to the Army, continuing his career in graphic design,” Petak said. “He has set tremendously high standards for current and future DECA competitors.”
Waltz also set high academic standards. At this year’s Commencement ceremony, he was one of two students to be presented with the University Medallion for highest academic record, and he was also one of the winners of the Fran Jabara Leadership Award, an honor based on entrepreneurial traits and leadership, particularly in business creation.
With a world title in hand for his academic pursuits and a career ahead of him supporting the Black Knights’ mission, Waltz reflected on how much his time at Kansas Wesleyan has meant to him.
“As hard as it was to leave home and come 18 hours away, I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Waltz said. “Kansas Wesleyan is very special to my heart.”
Story by Dan Froehlich