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Mister Pittsburgh
04-27-2009, 04:59 AM
http://www.postgazette.com/pg/09117/965853-87.stm

WR runs fast toward future
Monday, April 27, 2009
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
His speed alone gives this kid a real chance to make it big in the NFL. Certainly, that's what the Steelers noticed first about Mississippi wide receiver Mike Wallace, who was the second-fastest guy at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. Heads always turn when a player runs a 4.28 40-yard dash. That's why the Steelers couldn't pass on Wallace when they made their second pick in the third round of the draft yesterday. That's also why Wallace should be their kickoff return man on opening night against the Tennessee Titans Sept. 10, thankfully making the days of lumbering return men Gary Russell and Najeh Davenport a forgotten annoyance from the past.

But if Wallace's speed extraordinaire opened the Steelers' door, it's his appreciation for life and the opportunities it offers that give him his best shot of becoming a real pro football star. This is a kid who says of growing up on the roughest side of the tracks in New Orleans, the sadly and appropriately named Cutoff section of town: "I didn't want to be another statistic on the streets." And it's the same kid who says: "It seemed like everybody was making my mama cry when I was growing up. I told myself I wasn't ever going to do that."

We're talking serious, powerful motivation.

Over time, it has evolved for Wallace from wanting to use football to get to college and make a better life for himself to seizing an opportunity in the NFL to make a better life for his mother, Sonjia, who sacrificed so much for her five children as a single mom, especially after they had to be temporarily relocated because of Hurricane Katrina.

"My hero," Wallace called her.

"Actually, she's got to come to Pittsburgh with me. I can't cook and she's a great cook."

That made David Johnson smile. He was one of Wallace's coaches at O. Perry Walker High School in New Orleans and knows the family well. He didn't even try to sugarcoat Cutoff, describing it as a place where violent crime takes place "almost on a daily basis." He also talked serious, powerful motivation for Wallace.

"He always wanted to get better in football and always wanted a way to get out of the neighborhood," Johnson said. "Believe me, this kid won't take this opportunity for granted."

Not after seeing an older brother, Reggie, go off to jail to do serious time for selling drugs.

Not after seeing a half-brother, Arnold, shot and killed on the streets a few years ago for a reason that Wallace still can't explain.

Not after seeing a good friend, Jamal Dorsey, shot and killed after a silly argument over a bowling ball just a few weeks ago in an incident in which shots also were fired at Wallace's sister, Jahlisa, who wasn't hit.

"It's crazy. I've seen so much of it that I'm immune to it, really," Wallace said of the violence.

"I'm just trying to do the best I can with the cards I was dealt. I've had to struggle my whole life. I'm proud of myself for staying focused and not letting the negative stuff bring me down."

From Wallace's standpoint, the very start of his NFL career couldn't have gone any better. He's not just joining a six-time Super Bowl-winning franchise with the likes of Mike Tomlin, Ben Roethlisberger, Super Bowl MVP receivers Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes and another New Orleans legend, Ike Taylor. He's coming in with New Orleans homeboy and high school teammate, Oregon State cornerback Keenan Lewis, who also was picked by the Steelers in the third round yesterday, 12 selections after Wallace.

"A one-in-a-million shot," Wallace said of that daily double.

It's funny, a little earlier, during those few moments before the Steelers took Lewis, Wallace talked with some trepidation of facing the big adjustment of "living on my own" in Pittsburgh, "being in the real world" and "becoming a man" -- as if he isn't one already -- a long, long way from Cutoff. Then, just like that, he was saying, "Hopefully, Keenan and I will be there together for a long time."

The two are sitting in a nice spot with the Steelers, Lewis at a position weakened by the loss of free-agent Bryant McFadden and Wallace not just as that kickoff return man but as a deep-threat receiving replacement for departed free-agent Nate Washington.

"I like to say he can take the top off the coverage," Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said of Wallace. "He's a burner."

It all goes back to that serious, powerful motivation.

Wallace isn't just running hard from his troubled past in Cutoff. He's running all out to get to his future and all of the wonderful promise that it holds.

The Steelers think the kid ran fast at the combine?

They haven't seen anything yet.

Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com. More articles by this author
First published on April 27, 2009 at 12:00 am

papillon
04-27-2009, 09:02 AM
Regardless, of how his career with the Steelers unfolds, I hope everything works out for him in life. I couldn't imagine growing up in an area like that. I'm a Mike Wallace fan already.

Pappy

NorthCoast
04-28-2009, 02:38 PM
Reading his thoughts about moving to the 'Burgh reminds us of the fact that these are kids (compared to me anyway) in the midst of a major life transition. So on top of having to learn new football stuff they have to adjust to living on their own. I think we all have to agree that it is not an easy transition and some never quite make the turn to becoming a grown-up, regardless of how much money they make.

I wish him good luck and much success regardless of where he ends up.