Finding Open Doors
Finding Open Doors
Laith Wallschleger ’10 talks about football, acting, and his keys to success.
BY MELISSA ULSAKER MAAS ’76
Whether or not they knew it at the time, Laith Wallschleger’s parents chose the perfect name for their tiny newborn son. “Laith” is Arabic for lion, and today their little boy has grown into a muscular 6′ 4”, 250-pound man with an open, charismatic, and appealing personality. Like a big cat going after its prey, he too is laser-focused. When he sets a goal, he goes after it with 100% dedication. In high school and college, he set his sights on excelling in football and making it to the NFL. Along the way he earned good grades, an athletic scholarship to University of Delaware, a bachelor’s in finance with honors, and an MBA. But don’t look for Laith on a football field or in an office crunching numbers. You are more likely to find him in one of two places—in his closet turned home studio using one of more than 100 accents, characters, and celebrity impressions in his repertoire to record a voiceover, or on a set working on a TV show, film, or commercial.
Laith entered St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes in sixth grade, following in the footsteps of his father, Kurt Wallschleger ’76. Although Laith says his dad was “a wild guy back then,” he describes himself as a shy middle school student who tried his very best. “It was definitely challenging coming from public school to private school, trying to figure out who I was even though I had a bowl cut and my mom still dressed me,” Laith laughs. “I remember being unsure of myself and very sensitive to what other people thought about me, wanting to be cool and trying to fit in. Athletics gave me the confidence to do my own thing.”
Big men and football run in Laith’s family. His dad played defense at St. Stephen’s and division three football at Hiram University, and his cousin, Dean Muhtadi, played division one at the University of Maryland and then played for the Packers and the Cardinals. Dean is also well known for his career in the World Wrestling Entertainment ring under the name Mojo Rawley.
Laith remembers when he decided to really go for it as a rising junior at SSSAS, and spent the summer preparing for his “breakout football season” under Dean’s guidance. He was determined to play in college and make it to the NFL, but it was hard for him to gain weight. He spent every minute of his summer working towards his goal. “In the morning I would go to the weight room to get a workout in with the team, and then I would go home, eat something, and go do a tight end workout with my coach, former NFL player Leonard Stephens,” Laith says. “Then I would eat again and workout with my cousin, and do D line drills in the afternoon. I would go home, eat, and then play summer league basketball with the basketball team.”
Laith is grateful to his SSSAS football coaches, Dave Holm and Richard Allison, for believing in him. “I spent hours upon hours in the film room with them trying to put together these highlight tapes,” Laith says. “They would help me copy all the DVDs to send to coaches around the country.”
His hard work paid off. In his senior year, Laith was a first team All-State selection as both a defensive end and tight end, first team All-IAC as a defensive end, named Outstanding Athlete, and broke the SSSAS single-season record for sacks with 21. He also recorded 112 tackles, with 46 for a loss, and caused four forced fumbles while recovering five. As a tight end on offense, he caught 15 passes for 423 yards. On special teams he blocked a punt, a field goal, and was special teams leader in tackles. Laith was also a member of the basketball, track, and baseball teams.
While playing for the University of Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens as a defensive end, Laith appeared in 26 games, starting in 20 of those. He posted 87 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, and one forced fumble. He holds the record for the most field goals blocked with six. In his junior year he was named to the Delaware All-State College Football Team, but he suffered a season-ending injury when he tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee. Despite the injury and a year spent in recovery and rehab, Laith was named to the Colonial Athletic Association Honor Roll four consecutive years. While playing as an eligible fifth-year senior, Laith completed his MBA but still dreamed of the NFL.
After playing four successful seasons in Delaware, the Arizona Cardinals signed him as an undrafted free agent. “I was just with them for a mini-camp and pre-season in 2014,” Laith says. “In 2016 I started with the American Football League Jacksonville Sharks, but they folded after one season and I was traded to the Washington Valor.” As Laith began training camp with them, but realized his heart wasn’t in it. “I started wondering why I was killing myself to barely make ends meet and chase a dream that’s so difficult to achieve,” Laith admits. “I only believe in doing things that I’m passionate about and I wasn’t feeling it anymore. So, I walked away and it was a great decision.”
Laith is grounded, positive, and optimistic—drawing strength from a deep faith in God. “I believe that rejection is just God’s protection,” he grins. “When he closes a door, he wants you to keep walking down the hall until you find an open one.” Laith knows one thing for sure, he’s not a 9-5 kinda guy, so the last thing he wanted was a job in finance. As a child and teenager, Laith had a knack for mimicking cartoons, actors, and commercials. He and best friend Adam Saddick ’10 loved to imitate people on TV “all the time, doing voices and clowning around.” In college Laith took some theater classes and considered how his future could play out. “I was going to try and go to the NFL but if that didn’t happen, I was going to be a voice actor,” he says.
Laith believes that you have to invest in yourself to make it in any profession. “I had no background in voiceover or acting, I was starting from scratch,” he confesses. “I knew I had to learn the craft and what it was all about…and I’m still learning today.” Since Laith had a scholarship for University of Delaware, his parents gave him some money they had saved for his education, which afforded him the creative space to enroll in an online course, Such a Voice. “That course taught me the craft of voiceover,” Laith explains. His coach was award-winning voice artist Michael Yurchak, who worked with him on different character and commercial voices. While Yurchak commands as much as $80,000 for a commercial voiceover, Laith started on Fiverr, a freelance site, doing $5 gigs. “I’m still on it today and I’ve completed more than 1,000 voiceovers on Fiverr alone for clients,” he confides. Of course, he’s charging more than $5 now.
Doing voiceovers paid his rent and has become his steadiest income stream. Some of his voiceover clients include Sam’s Club, Staples, Dr. Pepper, Intel, Lamborghini, the U.S. Army, Burger King, Adidas, ESPN, Spotify, Mercedes, and Dasani. What might seem like a challenge to some is just plain fun for Laith. He loves being asked to do a voice he hasn’t done before. One client asked if he could do a voice for a 200-year-old biblical character. “That’s how I discovered my old man voice, which I’ve ended up using a lot,” he says. “And doing that voice led to discovering I could do an Optimus Prime, a Gandalf, and Liam Neeson!”
According to Laith, football is one of the sports that works all the time in Hollywood and the opportunities that came his way gave him the success he needed to be financially secure. “I would say the biggest thing about Hollywood is that you need to have multiple streams of income,” Laith says. “To establish myself I did the voiceovers, commercial acting, spokes work, some modeling work, and radio.” It’s no surprise that Laith was willing to hustle every day, all day—it’s written in his DNA—and it paid off again.
In 2019 he booked four national football commercials. One of them was the Super Bowl NFL 100 commercial in which all the football legends are at a banquet. Marshawn Lynch tries to steal some icing off a cake, knocking the golden football decoration off the top. Chaos ensues as the legends start playing keep away, tossing the football all around the room. Laith had the pleasure of being the stunt double for Brian Urlacker and tackling Deion Sanders onto a fully set table. In the Kyler Murray Rocket Mortgage “VR Training” commercial, Murray throws a football that narrowly misses Laith’s face. Recently Laith was the stunt double for Rob Gronkowski, a friend of his, for Fan Duel’s Kick of Destiny commercial. You know, the field goal Gronkowski missed.
Laith also did a hilarious commercial for Kizik shoes—the “hands-free” shoes—in which bodiless hands keep hitting him for trying to use his hands to put on his “hands-free” Kiziks. The ad now has more than 40 million views on social media. “The Kizik ad was wild,” Laith laughs at the memory. “Although it was made out of sugar, the glass they smashed over my head actually cut my forehead open, so we had to stop for a few seconds.”
But finding work doesn’t come that easily. “You’re constantly pitching yourself—each job you get you have to earn, nothing is really given to you and I like that challenge,” Laith notes. “The big opportunities, like national commercials, often come through your agents because with that much money on the line everyone’s going to submit for it.” For voiceover jobs and other smaller acting jobs, Laith hustles and pitches himself directly to clients. He constantly self-submits to active websites like Backstage, Casting Frontier, Actors Access, LA Casting, and Casting Networks. “I always say you are your best agent,” Laith says.
In the beginning of his career in Hollywood, Laith felt insecure around “so many insanely talented people.” He says he “put the stars on a pedestal and idolized them,” which left him feeling intimidated. But now he takes his core values and beliefs mostly from scripture. “I found God in Hollywood of all places,” Laith reveals. “At SSSAS we had chapel every Wednesday, but something was missing for me. I had the religion, but I didn’t have the relationship. Now, because of my relationship with Jesus, I have the confidence and the authority to walk boldly.”
Laith has also been offered some amusing jobs, including an appearance on season 17 of “Worst Cooks in America.” He lasted to episode five, but only because he believes they thought he was funny and likable. “Bobby Flay is awesome and the best part of that show, hands down,” Laith says with enthusiasm. “The cooks actually do demos and teach you. I’ve never tasted such good food in my life, but I’m still truly one of the worst cooks in America! In the end, a mole sauce took me down.” During the pandemic he did a game show called “Mental Samurai,” that drew more on his intellect than his prowess in a kitchen. “They flew us to Lisbon, Portugal to do the show with Rob Lowe,” Laith says. “They put us in this giant metal arm that swung us around the arena and we had to answer questions one by one. That one was so cool, and I actually did well on it.”
When he’s not working on his career, Laith hangs out with his fiancé in Florida, where he has been living since the Pandemic started. He recently joined the choir at his church. He says he’s not a great singer, “but why not praise the Lord and learn how to sing as well?” He loves being outside, especially out on the water, and going to comedy shows. “I went to a hypnosis comedy show and volunteered to get on stage—that was pretty wild,” Laith chuckles at the memory. “I rap-battled in Japanese, a language that I do not speak. I was convinced that a 300-pound man next to me was the best smelling person I’d ever smelled in my life and apparently buried my face in his armpit. I don’t think I’m gonna go back!”
Laith’s chosen a lifestyle that can be unpredictable and hectic. He admits he never knows what will happen next in his life and sometimes that can be scary, but “other times it’s fun, really fun.” The three years he was in Los Angeles were really sink or swim. “Every single day I had no idea what my schedule would be,” Laith discloses. “It would change on a daily basis.” Laith experienced the stressful reality of trying to balance work with a class, personal development, reading screenplays and scripts, rehearsing with scene partners, and learning the craft. He points out that after one year in LA, many hopefuls pack up and go home, but he understands what it takes to be successful and says, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Laith Wallschelger no longer has stars in his eyes when it comes to acting. It’s a job he loves and feels passionate about. Yes, his career comes with uncertainty, but he’s obviously happy, centered in his faith, and all in for the win.