The route from O. Perry Walker High School in New Orleans, LA, to Ole Miss was a crooked one for WR Burnell Wallace, but now that he's a Rebel, things couldn't be better for him.
Wallace signed with Oregon State in 2004, but did not make it academically, sitting out last fall. He spent the time getting himself eligible and looking for a new home.
When Frank Wilson was hired as the running backs coach at Ole Miss by then new Coach Ed Orgeron, Wilson looked Wallace, who also goes by Mike, up.
"Coach Wilson heard I had qualified and knew about my ability because he coached me until my senior year at O. Perry Walker. When he called, I was all ears," said Wallace, who will be 19 on August 1. "I was looking for a home and a fresh start."
Wallace was able to enroll at Ole Miss in Janauary and go through spring drills. In 2005, he will be classified as a true freshman and has five years to play four. In essence, he got a "free" extra spring session.
"The way the rules are, not getting eligible was the best thing that could have happened to me. I got an extra spring and I don't lose any eligibility," he explained. "Getting the spring training under my belt gives me an advantage over the other true freshmen."
But there were growing pains in spring.
"I didn't know anybody and I wasn't coming in with a large group of freshmen to hang with. I had to blend in quickly," Burnell stated. "Fortunately, there are some great guys on this team. Mario (Hill), Taye (Biddle), Larry (Kendrick) and (Mike) Espy all took me under their wing. They made me feel like I was part of the team instantly.
"All of them are great senior leaders who are eager to help the young guys. (Micheal) Spurlock also showed me some love and gave me a lot of confidence early in spring training by having confidence enough in me to throw me the ball."
Now, he feels like one of the guys. It's not uncommon to see him playing with Mario Hill's daughter Gabrielle. And you rarely see him when one of the older wide receivers aren't close by.
"Being close to those guys means a lot to me, as it would any freshman," he notes. "It's not easy to make the move from high school to college. Without them helping me and guiding me, I know it would be way more difficult."
Wallace feels he learned a lot in spring, but realizes he has a lot of work to do in August and in 2005.
"The biggest thing you learn is how to deal with the good and the bad. You are going to make mistakes and the coaches are going to let you know about it, but you have to take it the way it's intended, to help you get better," he added. "There is a lot to learn and you have to perfect it all in order to make an impact.
"At first, Coach (Matt) Lubick had me at the 'X,' but after he gained some confidence in me he told me to learn all the WR positions, which is what I am working on."
Wallace also learned he had to work on his body in the offseason. He reported in Janaury at 163 pounds on his 6-0 frame. Way too light.
"I've worked hard and now weigh 187," he smiled. "You have to be physical to play wide receiver in the SEC. It's hard to be physical at 163. I've gained 24 pounds and have not lost any of my speed."
And speed is one of his assets.
During the offseason, Wallace ran a 4.31 40 - in basketball shoes.
"I just ran. I had no idea about how to take off or proper form. The strength coaches have been working with me on those things," he continued. "I think I can get into the 4.2s now. We'll see."
In a recent interview with Lubick, the veteran WR coach said he expects Wallace to be "one of our deep threats."
"He can stretch the field. He's fast and explosive," Lubick noted. "Burnell is still young and has a lot to learn, but speed will not be one of his problems."
Burnell will use August practice to work on some specifics of playing wide receiver and further entrenching himself on the team.
"I will work hard to gain the trust of my teammates. I want them and the coaches to believe in me. I'm still raw in some areas, but I plan on changing that in August," he closed. "I want to be in the rotation of getting quality snaps. That's my immediate goal. From there, we'll see."
With his transition and indoctrination behind him, quality playing time is the next logical step.
Wallace 'fitting in' now
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