By David Brandt/The Associated Press
JACKSON — Bo Wallace was the backup quarterback at Arkansas State two years ago. Now he’s been honored as the best college football player in Mississippi.
Wallace won the 2012 C Spire Conerly Trophy on Tuesday night at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, beating out four other finalists, including Mississippi State cornerback Johnthan Banks, Southern Mississippi defensive end Jamie Collins, Delta State offensive lineman Kendall Hunter and Jackson State receiver Rico Richardson.
Wallace’s win was considered an upset considering Mississippi State’s Banks was a preseason All-American and Thorpe Award finalist, and is expected to be an early selection in this year’s NFL Draft.
But Wallace was fantastic in the head-to-head matchup against Banks and the rest of Mississippi State’s secondary last week in the Egg Bowl, throwing for 294 yards and five touchdowns in a 41-24 victory over the Bulldogs.
Even Wallace was surprised he won, but said it underscores just how important the Egg Bowl rivalry can be. The Conerly Trophy is voted on by 50 news media members throughout Mississippi.
“I hope my body of work was something that was taken into consideration,” Wallace said. “But I was fortunate enough to have a pretty good Egg Bowl, so I think it left an impression on the voters.”
The 6-foot-4, 204-pound sophomore helped lead the Rebels to a 6-6 record this season, which was a huge improvement after a 2-10 year in 2011. He has thrown for 2,843 yards, 19 touchdowns and 15 interceptions this season. He’s also rushed for 363 yards and a team-leading eight touchdowns.
Ole Miss is bowl-eligible for the first time since 2009.
“It’s something special,” Wallace said. “Some people look at it as an individual award, but I think it’s more of a team award. I know my teammates are really proud about this and I couldn’t be prouder of them and I was very fortunate to play with them this season.”
Wallace was not a bona fide SEC prospect when he was in high school at Giles County in Pulaski, Tenn. He wasn’t heavily recruited and ended up at Arkansas State, where he played under coach Hugh Freeze and was the backup to emerging star Ryan Aplin.
With no playing time in sight, Wallace transferred to East Mississippi Community College, where he led the team to a national title in 2011.
Then Freeze took the head coaching job at Ole Miss and recruited Wallace again. This time, he won the starting job and has flourished.
Ole Miss co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner said Wallace has improved as the season progressed and learned how to minimize mistakes.
“Because he takes chances, he’s going to get big plays,” Werner said. “My thing has always been, just be smart with it. If it’s a situation where it’s time to take a shot, that’s fine. But if it’s 3rd and 3 or a goal line situation, you don’t do that. He’s learning. He knows.”
With two years of eligibility remaining, Wallace could become just the second two-time Conerly Award winner. The other is another Ole Miss quarterback: Eli Manning.
“I think next year we have an opportunity to have a special season,” Wallace said. “I’m just glad to be a part of this and hopefully we have a good enough season (in 2013) that I’m invited back.”
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