Mike Wallace and all the Rebel receivers heard the criticism last season.
They felt some of it was warranted, but some of it was premature.
"We weren't real good last year, but we were so young and inexperienced that there wasn't much way we were going to be," explained Wallace. "We just stuck together and kept working, knowing it would come around if we ignored the criticism and kept our confidence as a group."
This year, things have flipped. The wide receivers have become one of the strengths of the Rebel team and Wallace is right in the middle of the transformation.
Through four games Mike has 16 catches for 400 yards and 4 touchdowns. Arguably, he's the most dangerous "big play" receiver in the league right now.
"I could see it happening in spring and all through the summer. We kept getting better and better. It seemed like a slow process, but you could feel it and see it daily," he continued. "I never lost my confidence and I worked on the things I needed to improve.
"I feel my hands are a lot better and I'm playing faster. I'm getting off the line of scrimmage better against press coverage. The biggest thing is that we stayed together and promised each other we were going to work harder than anyone in the league and we were going to watch each other's backs."
Mike has never lacked for confidence, but now it's at an even higher level.
"My speed has always given me confidence, but now I've become more of a complete receiver," he noted. "I feel like I am the most dangerous receiver in the SEC. I don't care who is in front of me, I feel I can beat them.
"And I feel that way about the whole group. I think the rest of our receivers are as good as me. I think we are the best receivers in the SEC. At the very least, we are the most improved, without a doubt."
While that may be a bit of a stretch at this point, it's the way WR Coach Hugh Freeze wants them to feel.
"Confidence is so critical at evey skill position," Freeze noted. "I want my guys going out there believing they cannot be stopped and I think they are starting to get that attitude."
Wallace credits Freeze with instilling a lot of the confidence now surrounding the wideouts.
"We are very comfortable with Coach Freeze. He's a guy you want to play hard for. He doesn't accept mistakes, but he doesn't yell at you when you make them. He talks you through them and keeps your confidence high," Mike stated. "Everyone makes mistakes, but if you are able to maintain your confidence and put them behind you quickly, you don't compound them. You make less mistakes when you aren't think about your last one. Last year, I think all the mistakes we made just multiplied with our frustration. Now, because of Coach Freeze, we let them go and just keep doing our best not to make any more."
Wallace was the leading receiver on the team in 2006 with 24 catches for 410 yards and two TDs. He's on pace to at least double all those numbers in 2007. It comes down to knowledge, experience, coaching and confidence, he says.
"It's night and day with the comfort level I hve this year. Nobody really understands what we were going through last year, but thankfully that is all behind us now, and it's across the board," Mike added. "We understand everything we are doing now. Nothing is new to us. When I watch film now, I know what I'm watching and understand what's being taught to me. Last year, there were times I was lost and I'm sure the other wideouts were too."
Mike is not only proud of himself, he's proud of his WR teammates.
"The thing we have going for us is that we don't care who catches the passes. When Shay Hodge or Marshay or anyone catches a pass, we feel like we all did it. We are in this thing together," he stated. "Sure, I want the ball, we all do, but we know we will all be better with the ball being spread around."
Wallace did not want to forget the "other end" of the passing game equation either.
"Our quarterbacks are doing a great job. TO me, Seth (Adams) is one of the best quarterbacks in the league and we know Brent (Schaeffer) can do the job too. The pass Brent threw to me at Vandy was as good as you will ever see - perfect," he assessed. "We love where our QBs are right now and can only see things getting better and better."
The next step is for Wallace to become more than a deep threat.
"I know I will start getting extra attention in terms of defenses not wanting me to get deep," he closed. "That will do two things - that will open up some stuff for the other receivers and will open up some shorter routes for me. We will all capitalize on that."
Mike Wallace -
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