They said Steelers rookie wide receiver Mike Wallace could run fast, but this is ridiculous. This kid has run from a dismal past to a bright future so quickly that it almost defies belief. It seems a shame he's going home to New Orleans this weekend for what figures to be nothing more than a quiet visit with family and friends during the Steelers' off week. They should throw a parade for him through the city's streets because he's the perfect example of what hard work, a burning desire to succeed and, yes, that extraordinary speed can accomplish.
What a great, positive, uplifting story.
David Johnson, Wallace's coach at O. Perry Walker High School in New Orleans, predicted all of this for Wallace when the Steelers made him a third-round choice in the April draft. "Believe me, this kid won't take this opportunity for granted."
It seemed like just so much hype at the time. Not now.
From the beginning, Wallace did everything right. He learned the Steelers' complicated offense. He watched veterans Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes -- each a Super Bowl MVP -- to see how they carried themselves and went about their business. He did his work and kept his mouth shut, the way all rookies should, especially on a Super Bowl team. He caught just about everything thrown to him. He stayed out of trouble. He limited his splash plays to the field instead of taking them to parking lots outside of bars. He didn't tussle with any cops.
"This is a perfect situation for me," Wallace said after playing another huge role in the Steelers' 27-17 victory Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings at Heinz Field.
"There are a lot of guys here with a lot of pressure on them. I'm not one of them. I don't have to be 'The Guy.' That makes it a lot easier for me to just go out and play.
"I'm just trying to carry my weight. Hines, Santonio, Ben [Roethlisberger], they're the playmakers on this team. I'm just happy I can be a part of it. There can't be any drop-off when the ball comes to me."
Wallace's 22-yard catch and 40-yard touchdown on the same drive against the Vikings were his latest big plays. There were 29- and 21-yard catches against the Cleveland Browns as well as a 21-yard run on an end-around play. There was a 47-yard touchdown catch against the Detroit Lions. There was a 35-yard catch against the San Diego Chargers to set up a touchdown. There was a seven-catch, 102-yard performance against the Cincinnati Bengals, including a 51-yard reception. There was a 22-yard catch against the Tennessee Titans in overtime to set up the winning field goal.
Carrying his weight? Wallace could be nose tackle Casey Hampton's size, and I would say the same thing.
"I'm not surprised at all," Wallace said. "I feel I can compete in any situation. I know my ability. I'm just glad the coaches are giving me the opportunity to show it."
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians aren't fools. They learned quickly that Wallace's game is a lot more than just his 4.28-second speed in the 40-yard dash. He's more dependable than disappointing Limas Sweed, the team's No. 2 pick in the 2008 draft. The NFL stage isn't the least bit too big for Wallace. Roethlisberger sees that, too. He doesn't hesitate to throw to him in big spots.
Something Wallace said on draft day is instructive.
"I'm proud of myself for staying focused and not letting the negative stuff bring me down."
Wallace's brother, Reggie, went to jail on drug charges. A half-brother, Arnold, was shot to death. A good friend, Jamal Dorsey, also was shot and killed in an incident in which shots were fired at Wallace's sister, Jahlisa, who wasn't hit.
"I didn't want to be another statistic on the streets," Wallace said.
Just about everybody says that. A lot fewer make the commitment that Wallace did to make something of his life. He deserves tremendous credit for getting to college at Mississippi and taking advantage of his opportunities there before taking the next big step to the Steelers.
Here are two statistics that Wallace loves having associated with his name: His 368 receiving yards on 21 catches are the most among NFL rookies and his 17.5 yards-per-catch average is best among rookies with at least 20 receptions.
Believe me, this kid won't take this opportunity for granted ...
If there's one thing Wallace needs to work on, it's his touchdown celebration. He did a flip into the end zone Sunday. "I'd give it about an 8. I need to work on my elevation," he said, grinning.
Funny line, sure. But no one would have been laughing if Wallace had injured his shoulder doing such a silly stunt. He'll learn. He'll figure out it's a lot better to act as if he has scored a lot of touchdowns. You know, act like you've been to the end zone before.
Wallace figures to get plenty of practice scoring touchdowns before his career is done. He doesn't just have that kind of ability. He has that kind of desire.
Ron Cook can be reached at email@example.com .