Auburn, Ala.—On Tuesday Auburn coach Gene Chizik announced that true freshman Jonathan Wallace would get the start on Saturday as the Tigers take on New Mexico State. Mostly a wildcat quarterback this season for the Tigers to this point, Wallace will become the first true freshman to start at the position since Kodi Burns in 2007 and he said it's just exciting to have that opportunity.
"They have that trust in me being able to go out there and execute the plays they give me," Wallace said. "I believe I've earned that respect and that trust for my coaches from what I did last Saturday night. I really have to continue to go at it at practice, continue to work hard and come out positive.
"I was very excited," he added of learning he was the starter. "I also knew there was a lot of responsibility behind it. You've got to win. I'm just going to go out, have fun with my teammates and get a win."
Wallace's work ethic is something the players and coaches have talked about since he arrived on campus over the summer. Running back Tre Mason said recently he watched as Wallace went through the blaster (running back ball handling training equipment) in his street clothes after fumbling twice at Vanderbilt. Saying it was just part of his makeup, Wallace said he understands it takes hard work to make in on this level.
"Playing in this league, you have to work hard," Wallace said. "You have to work extremely hard. It all starts with preparation. That's just one of the things about it. You can't take a day off in this league. That's the only way you're going to have an edge. With that work ethic, I was able to grasp onto a lot of things more quickly than people may have expected. It's been working, so I'm going to stay on that road."
One of the players that has been impressed by what Wallace has done is senior wide receiver Emory Blake. A veteran and leader for the Tigers, Blake said the Central Phenix City standout has worked hard on and off the field to get his shot and he's ready for it.
"Jonathan works real hard," Blake said. "He knows the offense inside and out. He's one of those guys that has watched film ever since he got on campus. He's worked hard for this position. He came in last week and did a good job for us. I'm proud of him." Wallace will take over the position from Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier, both starters this season for the Tigers. The third quarterback for the first three three months of the 2012 season, Wallace said that watching both of the older guys has helped him tremendously in his development to this point.
"I have learned a lot from them," Wallace said. "That goes back to some of my preparation as well in the film room and on the field. If I'm not getting the physical rep then I'm taking mental reps and seeing the ins and outs of each play, just being able to see things from another point of view what I may need to do on a certain play. I have learned a lot from those guys."
Growing up watching Auburn play and waiting on an offer from the Tigers, Wallace will complete part of his journey on Saturday when he gets his first start in Jordan-Hare Stadium. With family and friends in the stadium to cheer him on he said it won't be as much about emotion as his passion for playing the game he loves.
"It will be a lot of fun from that standpoint, not too emotional," Wallace said. "It's football. I have a passion for it. It's just a matter of going out and fighting for those other guys and trying to get a win."