- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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AUSTIN, Texas -- When Hugh Freeze met with Dan Werner this winter, the new Ole Miss head coach was in search of the right man to run his offense. He needed a new quarterback, too.
So Freeze broke out some film. He told Werner these were a few guys he’d considered pursuing.
When they started rolling tape of a familiar junior college kid, Werner stopped the search.
“I saw his film and said, ‘Let’s go get him,’” said Werner, the Rebels’ offensive coordinator. “He didn’t tell me who any of them were.”
Freeze agreed, and he had an in. A year earlier, the kid was his third-string quarterback at Arkansas State. Werner got the job and together they set their sights on their new signal caller.
Ole Miss wanted Bo Wallace more than anyone else. That’s why he chose the Rebels over Mississippi State, Indiana and Baylor.
Had Texas wanted him, there’s a chance Wallace could’ve been a Longhorns this weekend in Oxford. For one week in January, that was at least a distinct possibility.
Texas’ unsettled quarterback situation prompted offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin to make the call. This wasn’t a quick-fix move or one to bolster depth, Harsin says now. He was looking for “the right situation at that time.”
Wallace said he had two or three conversations with Harsin during that week. No offer, no visit, nothing more than that.
“They talked about maybe bringing me on a visit. It never happened,” he said. “So, I mean, I think their media kind of blew that up more than what it was.”
Texas told Wallace they didn’t need him to visit, and that was that. None of Texas’ quarterbacks transferred or got injured. A starter emerged. Two highly regarded signal-callers, Tyrone Swoopes and Jerrod Heard, have committed since then. The Longhorns got their house in order.
“We decided to step back and look at the big picture of where we are and where we’re going,” Harsin said. “We decided that what we had was the right thing to do, and focus on that.”
“I think they just felt like they had two quality guys that can win football games for them and decided to go a different route,” Wallace said.
Harsin felt Wallace was the best junior college quarterback in the country last year, and his rise has been equal parts rapid and unexpected. Coming out of high school in Pulaski, Tenn., Wallace was a two-star quarterback whose only other offers came from Tennessee Tech and Tennessee-Martin.
He left Arkansas State after one season. The Red Wolves’ starter, sophomore Ryan Aplin, had just won first-team all-conference honors. Wallace knew staying meant signing up for two more years on the bench.
So he went to East Mississippi Community College. And he blew up: 4,604 passing yards, 53 touchdowns, a 12-0 season, a seven-touchdown showing to win the NJCAA national title game.
“He was throwing for a million yards and winning games,” Werner said. “That’s sort of what you look for in a quarterback.”
Wallace said he’d always liked Ole Miss, ever since he took a visit as a high school freshman. Getting to play for Freeze again meant not having to learn a new scheme or terminology.
And Wallace has fit right in in his time in Oxford. He beat out Barry Brunetti for the starting gig and has thrown for 438 yards and five scores through two games. He doesn’t consider himself a dual-threat quarterback, but Wallace is Ole Miss’ leading rusher at 151 yards and two touchdowns. His 187.6 passing rating is eighth-best nationally.
Now comes by far the toughest game of his young college career. At the junior college level, Wallace said, opposing defenses only feature four or five really good players. He’s never seen a starting 11 like the one Texas will bring to town on Saturday night.
“I think it’s really exciting,” he said. “It’s a challenge for our offense to see how good we really are.”
Wallace holds no grudge about being passed up by Texas. He found exactly what he was looking for in Ole Miss. But he will have some extra motivation when he takes the field this weekend.
“I always play with a chip on my shoulder,” Wallace said. “It’ll be the same against Texas as it is against Alabama and LSU.”