Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Bo Wallace's route to Ole Miss was almost as circuitous as that of his head coach, Hugh Freeze. Wallace's college career began as a redshirt freshman at Arkansas State University in 2010, with Freeze as offensive coordinator.
At the time, their relationship was somewhat short of harmonious. Wallace, just 17 years old and five hours away from home for the first time, struggled to adjust to Freeze's high-energy coaching style, especially after learning he would not play in his first season. Despite the ups and downs of their year in Jonesboro—including Freeze running Wallace through a session of stadiums to "make him quit" after the QB showed up late for the team bus—Freeze held no hard feelings when Wallace decided to leave ASU after the season.
"He needed to mature," Freeze told AL.com. "He needed to grow up, like a lot of us do when we get out of high school."
After Wallace's departure, ASU promoted Freeze to head coach. The following season, Ole Miss named Freeze its head coach after the Rebels' dismal 2-10 season, the worst in school history since 1946. One of his first orders of business was to find a QB, and he had Wallace at the top of his wish list.
Meanwhile, the previous year Wallace's high-school coach directed him to East Mississippi Community College, in Scooba (pop. 717). Wallace got to work, setting NJCAA records (4,606 yards of offense, 53 touchdowns) and leading his team to a 12-0 record on the way to a NJCAA championship. Offers began coming in for Wallace across the SEC (including Mississippi State) at the end of the season. There would be one more suitor: Ole Miss.
Freeze wasn't sure Wallace would want to play for him after their up-and-down relationship at ASU. What he did know was that he needed a QB who knew his offense and would be able to thrive, quickly.
Luckily for Freeze, Wallace recognized that it had been his immaturity that had created tension between them at ASU, and he respected the coach for believing he could do more. Even though Wallace's parents, wary of their son's trouble at ASU repeating itself under Freeze at Ole Miss, hoped he would choose Mississippi State, the decision was Wallace's to make. In the end, believing Ole Miss afforded him the best shot to start in the SEC immediately, Wallace chose to follow Freeze to Oxford.
What are the chances that a quarterback with a dog named Tibeaux would end up playing for a team in the piney woods of Mississippi rather than among the swamps of southern Louisiana?
Better than one might expect, considering his dog's name is homage to Tim Tebow, as is his jersey number 15—and the Mississippi team's head coach also coached in The Swamp (of Gainesville, Fla.).
During high school, Dak Prescott attended summer football camp at Mississippi State, where he caught the eye of head coach Dan Mullen. During weightlifting sessions, Prescott motivated other campers to push themselves.
Perhaps thanks to what he learned over the summer in Starkville, Prescott's senior season at Haughton High would be his best yet. Prescott threw for 39 touchdowns, rushed for 17 and posted 2,860 yards of offense. Numbers like that got the attention of teams across the SEC, including Les Miles and LSU.
Prescott's mom, Peggy, pushed him to consider LSU. But Prescott had already committed to Mississippi State the previous July, after Mullen offered him a scholarship as he was driving home with his coach from camp. In the end, Starkville won out over Baton Rouge.
"Starkville is hours away from anything that's crazy or tempting or anything to do," Prescott told Sports Illustrated. "I knew I could stay focused."
'A Long Way'
"At one time I never wanted to be around him again," Wallace told ESPN about Freeze. "Now he's my head coach and we're doing the things we've been doing here. ... We've come a long way."
A long way indeed. In his third year under coach Freeze, Wallace has played his best football, despite notable inconsistency and losses. Following the 30-0 loss to the Arkansas Razorbacks, Wallace is still second in the SEC's QB efficiency rating at 150.3, behind only Dylan Thompson of the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Finished with his undergraduate degree, Wallace has time this year to study film on weekends with Freeze. Although the LSU, Auburn and Arkansas losses pushed Ole Miss out of contention for a national championship, the Rebels will have the opportunity to play for their third-straight bowl win. Before that, Wallace will have the chance to redeem last year's Egg Bowl loss.
No matter the Egg Bowl's outcome, though, Freeze knows he has Wallace to thank for much of his success at Ole Miss. Before the 2014 season, he said of Wallace, "There's no way we'd be sitting here with 15 wins in two years and two bowl victories had Bo not been with us."
'Better Pro Prospect'
Prescott spent much of this year, his second as an SEC starter, bubbling to the top of conversations about Heisman candidates—not an unusual situation for a Mullen-coached quarterback. When Tim Tebow won the Heisman at Florida, Mullen was his offensive coordinator.
Even considering that Mullen has a knack for developing young quarterbacks, Prescott's numbers are no less impressive. He stands atop five major offensive categories in the SEC, including total yards (4,848) and total touchdowns (37). Comparisons between Prescott and Tebow go further than their similar heights and builds. Like Tebow, Prescott relies on rushing as well as passing to help his team score.
The similarities have drawn national attention, with NFL Senior Media Analyst Gil Brandt tweeting on Nov. 6: "Watched 2 tapes on Dak Prescott this morning. Might be most improved player in CFB. Much better pro prospect than Tebow."
Whatever the future holds for Prescott, his immediate focus is on the next game again Ole Miss. Last year, his late-game heroics brought the title to Starkville, an outcome he hopes to repeat Saturday.
The stakes are higher than ever before at this year's Egg Bowl, with both teams coming off seasons among the best in their histories. Whichever team comes out on top, they will have the strong leadership of their quarterback and head coach to thank.