One to Emerge

Spring practices ended last month. And when they did, Ole Miss quarterback Barry Brunetti took a step back.

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He needed a break, some time to catch his breath. For 15 practices stretching from late March to mid-April, Brunetti and fellow quarterback Bo Wallace were under a microscope. Their every move both on and off the field were analyzed.

Such is life when competing for the starting job at football's most high-profile position.

"Every play you do is on film and the coaches will see it later on," Brunetti said. "If you do anything wrong, try to forget about that last play and move on and move forward. But it's competition. You want to have a perfect day, but everybody can't be perfect. You just try to go out and do your best every day."

The summer is here now. Ah, the summer. Players are left mostly to themselves, save for time spent with strength and conditioning coach Paul Jackson each day for high-intensity workouts. Then, it's to the artificial turf of the indoor practice facility or to the practice fields for voluntary individuals.

"It's a good relief," Brunetti said. "This is a time to kind of get down your timing with your receivers, work out every day, get with your strength coach every day and the most important thing, get ready for the summer workouts."

The spring was grueling for Brunetti. When Ole Miss opened practices, he took the first-team reps, and he held the job for nearly three weeks.

Barry Brunetti
Bruce Newman

But near the end of spring, after Randall Mackey was moved to wide receiver, creating a two-man battle between Brunetti and Wallace, the competition got tougher. Reps were divided evenly.

Wallace had the better Grove Bowl, finishing 16 of 26 for 240 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Brunetti's line wasn't as pretty. He was 4 of 10 for 62 yards and no touchdowns. He did lead his team with 109 rushing yards.

The competition, so it seems, is even.

"I started off in spring with the ones and kind of kept it all through spring," Brunetti said.

"Once they knocked it down to a two-man race, we really evened out reps and left the competition between me and Bo. He evened out the reps even more in the last two weeks. That's when it got intense."

Running is a big part of Brunetti's game. So much so, he can sometimes rely too much on his ability to create positive gains with his legs. He doesn't want to be known simply as a running quarterback.

"That's one thing I do want to do much better on, is not trying to rely on my legs so much. Just sit back there that extra second, ‘cause that extra second could count," he said. "I know I can run. I just want to show that I can throw it because I can. Run when I have to and run when it's designed for me to run.

"I know running is a part of my game. It's something I've always done. I don't want to take that out, but I do want to take that extra time in the pocket."

It's all a part of the maturation process for Brunetti.

The final decision on a starter, whenever that decision ultimately comes, will be between the former West Virginia transfer and Wallace, who spent last season setting records at East Mississippi Community College.

"We've known each other since our high school days, since high school ball and camps," Brunetti said.

Bo Wallace
Chuck Rounsaville

"It's not really an awkward thing. We congratulate each other and try to help each other out. We're still friends off the field. Friends on the field, too, but you just know you're competing with this guy, and this guy wants your job. It's nothing awkward."

Brunetti, a junior, is positioning himself as a leader, as well. And as a leader, he's following his teammates with an attentive eye.

Plenty has been made of the off-the-field issues with the team. So far, though, Brunetti has seen a better focus.

"Much better focus. Everybody's on campus, everybody's in class. I really didn't see any off-the-field issues all spring, since Coach Freeze got in," he said. "So, that's one thing that Coach Freeze has done that was a great job, by holding on and keeping us focused. That's the most important thing.

"We've still got some work to do, but that goes into the summer and this fall. But right now, I've seen extremely increased focus. It's been great around here."

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