When MLB Jonathan Cornell
said the Ole Miss football team does not lack confidence, he couldn't resist defending his statement with an example.
"You have been around our wide receivers, haven't you?" he asked rhetorically.
Senior WR Mike Wallace
is not bashful to confirm Cornell's statement.
"I really feel like we are the best wide receivers in the SEC," said Wallace, who is listed at 6-0, 180, but looks taller and says he's now 195 pounds. "We have me, Shay (Hodge), Dexter (McCluster), Markeith (Summers), Lionel (Breaux) and newcomer Andrew Harris and more.
"We have speed, we can catch the ball and we have experience."
The wide receivers have made a major transformation in the last two years. In 2006, they were inexperienced and young, and it showed in their play to the point of them being considered a "weakness" of the squad.
Last year, they matured, took advantage of the experience they had gained the year prior and were determined not to be labeled as the weak link again, a mission they accomplished with a productive season.
This year, before the season has gotten underway, the Rebel wideouts are considered a strength of the team.
"We got better under Coach (Hugh) Freeze last year and Coach (Ron) Dickerson is the same kind of coach - a player's coach," he explained. "I felt we were pretty good all along, but it took us a year to get it right. It was our first year and we took our lumps, but we learned from it and got better last year."
Mike, never short on words, says the sky is the limit this year for several major reasons.
"Seth (Adams) was good, but Jevan (Snead) is on a different level and Billy (Tapp) has been very good too in summer workouts," Mike continued. "Our timing and being on the same page has improved a lot since spring. I am very confident in the progress we have made since the start of spring and into summer.
"The vertical game is going to be much better now because Jevan has a stronger arm than Seth had. We all feel we can get behind defenders and get open and if we do we know Jevan has the arm strength to get us the ball. Seth did not have a weak arm, but Jevan is special. I tell him all the time, throw it as far as you can and I will go get it. Jevan is confident and feels he can make every throw. As a receiver, you have to have your head on a swivel because you can get the ball at any time from any angle."
Also, the inclusion of Offensive Cordinator Kent Austin's passing game has given everyone a spark.
"We have more selection and more routes to choose from. He matches our routes with our skills better," Wallace said. "We run a lot of four-man combinations to get all our weapons on the field at the same time.
"Coach Austin is going to find plays to expose every coverage. He told us to be confident in what he's calling because he's going to put us in good situations and we could see that in spring. I'm very confident in what is happening in the passing game."
And then there is the basic drive on the team. Bluntly, they are tired of losing.
"We proved we can compete with any team. Now we have to win. We are sick of losing. We are doing everything we can to flip this thing around. Coach (Houston) Nutt and Coach (Don) Decker are getting us ready to win," he noted emphatically.
"We are sick of it. I've been here three years and have never been to a bowl game. That's enough. The whole team is tired of that. We start every drill by chanting 'championship.' We played just about every team tough last year and we are way better this year than we were last year. There is no reason not to win. We have confidence now and we are connected as a team. Last year, we had too many individuals too worried about their stuff and not the team's goals. Now, we are together. It's like the wide receivers. We are all friends and we all hang out with each other. We don't care who catches the most passes, we just want to catch it. We all think we are the go-to guy, but we don't mind when someone else is getting the passes."
Last, but not least, Wallace feels the conditioning of the team is much better than it's been.
"We've always been in good shape, but now we are in much better shape than before. Coach Decker takes more time individually with each of us. They evaluate each player, figure out what we need individually and attack that," he explained. "Coach Decker is really into flexibility and that will pay off in less injuries. Last year at this time we had several players who were hurt from summer. This year, we don't have any muscle pulls or anything like that."
Wallace is known for his straight-ahead speed, having been timed in the 4.2s consistently for the past couple of years in the 40. He claims he has gained speed under Decker's guidance.
"My starts are better. My running technique is much better. Coach Decker always tells me that I can always get faster and I believe him. I don't know how fast I am now, but I feel faster than ever," he stated.
And Wallace is also stronger.
"The added weight has helped because it's good weight. My bench has gone up about 50 pounds and my squat 60 pounds since January," he stated. "I feel real good right now."
Some people are saying the secondary will be a weakness on the team. Wallace does not agree.
"Last spring, for the most part, we felt like they could not stop us," Mike assessed. "Now we know we have to bring it every day. I can't tell you how much better they have gotten in the offseason.
"We talk a lot of trash back and forth. They have gotten stronger and faster and have gained a lot of confidence. Marshay (Green) has brought a lot of intensity to that group. They always had it in them, but he brings it out in them. He's a talker and competitor. When they break up a pass now, they go crazy and get in our faces. It gets on my nerves (laughs). Coach (Tyrone) Nix has them doing all kinds of things. They do more coverages and blitzes and they disguise things very well. I know they are going to be ready."
As you can tell, Wallace is not shy about expressing his opinions. Is it a lot of talk or something he can back up?
"We'll back it up," he smiled.
Mike Wallace believes the Rebels have the best wide receiver unit in the Southeastern Conference. Period. Bar none. Read about it inside.