He arrived Thursday afternoon sporting a new look, his trademark long hair gone. He recently graduated from Ole Miss, meaning football will be his primary, if only, focus in his senior season.
And he’s carrying himself with a renewed confidence. His injured shoulder, which limited his ability to throw downfield last season, has gained considerable strength. He said he’s throwing as well as he did in junior college, when he set NJCAA single-season passing records and was a first team All-American.
“He feels really good,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. “He’s really confident. He looks better, he’s gained 15 pounds. He’s excited about the way he feels and the work that’s taken place in the off-season, not only with Paul Jackson, but with some specialists that have looked at him. I think he’s as confident as I’ve ever seen him.”
Wallace tripped to Los Angeles, Calif., earlier in the summer to visit former major league pitcher and throwing specialist Tom House – an idea brought about by Ole Miss co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Dan Werner.
House is known for his work with pitchers and quarterbacks, with his focus on improving mechanics to prevent further injury. Werner learned of House through HBO’s “Real Sports.”
“I went out there just to get a little velocity back and things like that,” Wallace said. “It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made. It’s definitely helped me out. I definitely had some great results.”
The visit was important for Wallace. He set school records for total offense (3,701) and completions (283) in a season as a junior, but lack of arm strength was obvious. Ole Miss rarely stretched the field vertically.
“I think he’s matured quite nicely. He finally feels healthy and confident.”
Wallace’s shoulder wouldn’t allow it.
“We’ve talked about it, watched videos together,” Freeze said. “Everything has just given him confidence. Hopefully the arm strength that he has right now will be sustained throughout the year because of a full off-season of rehab work, strengthening and some specialists.”
Wallace is up to 223 pounds. His goal, weight-wise, is 225. So, he doesn’t have far to go.
Really, though, Wallace is approaching his senior season with a maturity not seen in his previous two seasons, according to Freeze. He’s the unquestioned leader of the Rebel offense.
As Wallace goes, so goes Ole Miss.
“There’s no way we win two bowl games without him,” Freeze said. “I think he’s matured quite nicely. He finally feels healthy and confident. He’s at a point to step in and be one of the top guys in this conference.”
Wallace enters his final season ranked second in school history in total offense yards (7,085), second in passing yards (6,340), third in completions (518), sixth in attempts (805), first in completion percentage (64.3), fourth in passing touchdowns (40) and second in 300-yard passing games (7).
But there’s plenty of room for improvement, especially as it relates to turnovers. He’s thrown 27 combined interceptions through two seasons.
“Leadership, consistency,” Freeze said, when asked of what he expects out of Wallace this season. “Those are the two things we’ve continued to talk to him about going into his senior campaign. I’m really pleased with the progress he’s made in leading our football team and going about his business. Finding some consistency throughout the year will be important. You don’t have to make a play every play. But that’s not bad either. He’s got that competitive streak in him that he thinks he can make them. Real pleased with where he is right now.”
Ole Miss was picked by league media to finish fourth in the SEC West. Wallace was named to the preseason All-SEC third team, behind Auburn’s Nick Marshall and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott.
Wallace said he and his teammates aren’t paying much attention to outside expectations whether good, bad or indifferent. The team has one goal in mind: an SEC championship.
“We don’t feel pressure at all,” he said. “We’re confident we can get into late games with those teams. That’s our goal – to get into the fourth quarter and let’s see what happens. We’re a dark horse and we know that. We’re working every day like we want to win an SEC championship.”
And Ole Miss will only get there with Wallace, the elder statesman of SEC quarterbacks, leading the way.
“It’s a little weird. I can remember being a sophomore fighting for the job. Now to my senior year being the most experienced one, I’m blessed to have been able to play 26 games or whatever it is, the number of starts,” he said.
“There’s not a lot of things that can be thrown at me that I haven’t seen the past two years. That definitely gives me an advantage.”