Before the start of the 2008 season, former Rebel Mike Wallace was considered a mid-to-late round NFL Draft choice.
But after establishing single-season school records as a senior at Ole Miss with 1,737 all-purpose yards and 861 yards in kick returns, Wallace started making a significant climb.
While he had to wait a little longer than first anticipated, the 6-foot, 180 pounder was taken in the third round (84th overall) by the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday.
"I had just talked to Coach Nutt and he told me not to worry, because I was going to come off the board soon," Wallace said of waiting until midway through the draft's second day. "He said Chicago was probably going to take me with their next pick. Tennessee was also considering me."
Wallace finished his collegiate career ranked second all-time in all-purpose yardage, third all-time in TD receptions and fifth in receiving yards. He also recorded seven career 100-yard receiving games – second-most by any Rebel.
The New Orleans, La. native said while he enjoyed the process, he's glad to finally know his professional destination.
"I'm happy it's over, to be honest," said Wallace. "Pittsburgh is the best situation for me. They're a team that's already good. They told me they had high expectations for me and expect me to contribute immediately."
Wallace said he didn't have any indication of the Steelers intentions, until he received a phone call with an unfamiliar number.
"They were real excited," he said. "When they called, I didn't know the area code, so I got a little nervous. When I picked it up, the general manager and Coach (Mike) Tomlin was on the other line. They asked me if I was ready to be a Steeler. I was real excited. Coach Tomlin told me he wants me to get behind defenders every play with my speed. That's what I do best."
Last season, Wallace led the SEC and ranked third in the NCAA (among top 100 WRs) in yards per catch (20.1). He also led Ole Miss and was sixth in the SEC in receiving yards per game (60.3).
He equaled the Rebel record for 100-yard receiving games with four and piled up the fifth-most receiving yards in school history (784) as a senior.
Wallace attributes his early selection and the selections of fellow Rebels Michael Oher and Peria Jerry in the first round, to their development under second-year head coach Houston Nutt and staff.
"It shows how stuff has changed at Ole Miss," Wallace said. "It goes to show how Coach Nutt can develop players better than anybody. I expect more to be drafted next year. It's only going to get better."
Wallace will have the pleasure of starting his professional career with former O. Perry Walker teammate Keenan Lewis, who was also taken in the third round by Pittsburgh.
"At the end of the third round, my high school teammate Keenan Lewis was taken by Pittsburgh too," said Wallace of the 96th selection from Oregon State. "We've been working out together in the offseason, so I'm real excited with how it turned out. We're going to be teammates."
No situation appears better for Wallace, as the Steelers offer one of the NFL's more established quarterbacks in 2004 first round selection Ben Roethlisberger and a typically strong ground game featuring North Carolina product Willie Parker.
They also possess the league's No. 1 defense, who led the NFL with only 237.2 yards surrendered last season.
"I can't wait to get started," Wallace said. "Ben Roethlisberger is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. I'm ready to get up there so I can begin working with him. I'm glad the only time I have to face that defense is in practice. They fly around. Pittsburgh is just a great team."
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