AUBURN — It was Oct. 21, the day after Auburn lost 17-13 to Vanderbilt, and Jonathan Wallace had work to do. Wallace had fumbled the day before, the first time he had done so at Auburn, and although Jay Prosch recovered, Auburn lost 10 yards on the play and fell out of Vanderbilt territory and the drive stalled.
So Wallace, a true freshman quarterback, went about correcting his error immediately, running through the blaster — a large practice device meant to simulate opposing tacklers hitting a ball carrier — and he did so in street clothes.
“Not many people would go ahead and do that,” Auburn running back Tre Mason said. “He had no pads on. He was in regular clothes just doing that with the ball. That just shows how much he works and how hard he works.
“We all recognize his work ethic and all the extra things he does. Come in on our day off, coming in running through the blaster, watching extra film, going through his throwing mechanics, drop backs and stuff just shows he’s s hard worker.”
Wallace’s work ethic has earned the respect of his teammates and the Auburn coaching staff and now he will take over as the starting quarterback when the Tigers host New Mexico State on Saturday.
“Playing in this league, you have to work hard,” said Wallace, who went 6-for-9 for 122 yards with two touchdowns and added 13 carries for 71 yards in last week’s blowout loss to Texas A&M. “You have to work extremely hard. It all starts with preparation. That’s just one of the things about it. You can’t take a day off in this league. That’s the only way you’re going to have an edge. With that work ethic, I was able to grasp onto a lot of things more quickly than people may have expected. It’s been working, so I’m going to stay on that road.”
Wallaec, the Phenix City native, has gone from being committed to Central Florida to receiving a last-minute offer from Auburn to the Tigers’ starting QB in a little more than nine months.
Auburn coach Gene Chizik said Wallace’s track record of leading Central-Phenix City to the semifinals of the 6A AHSAA semifinals and the staff’s familiarity with the local player from his time at Auburn’s camps made for a nice fit late in the recruiting process.
“When you come from a competitive league like Alabama high school football and you’re able to take your team and guide your team and lead your team to a lot of success, there’s something to that,” Chizik said. “So when we recruited him it was kind of an eleventh-hour deal as we all know but we knew he was right down the road and we needed his type of leadership and his type of work ethic to come in here, not knowing exactly how it would fit or where it would go but there was a lot.
“When you talk about the mark of the man, there was a lot to him. That has been very evident to everybody around here since he got here.”
The extraordinary path he has taken to this point was not lost on Wallace, who has 27 carries for 106 yards this season operating exclusively out of the Wildcat until last week.
“Ultimately, it’s a blessing, that’s the way I look at it,” he said. “It’s a tremendous blessing. Coming in I always told my parents and friends that no matter where I go God is going to take care of me and He’s done that so far.”
Wallace will be the third starting quarterback for Auburn this season. Kiehl Frazier started the first five games and Clint Moseley started the last three but have suffered injuries to the shoulder and left ankle respectively.
While he had not been practicing with the first team as much as Frazier or Moseley previously, Wallace said he was still learning and picking up nuances from the sideline.
“If I’m not getting the physical rep then I’m taking mental reps and seeing the ins and outs of each play, just being able to see things from another point of view what I may need to do on a certain play,” he said. “I have learned a lot from those guys.”
To be sure, necessity played a role in Wallace getting the starting, but his work and dedication was a big factor as well.
Wallace admitted he did not think he would start back in August but as Tigers fans know, things have changed on the Plains since then.
“Coming in, you wouldn’t think so,” Wallace said. “The opportunity is here now. I’m just going to make the best of it.”