Quarless, Wallace must step up for Penn State
By Cory Giger, firstname.lastname@example.org
UNIVERSITY PARK - It's time for Andrew Quarless and A.J. Wallace to live up to their hype.
If they don't, they will forever kick themselves for wasting a ton of talent.
It can be argued Quarless and Wallace are two of the most physically gifted players on the Penn State football team, and fans have been discussing their breakout potential since both had impressive freshman seasons in 2006.
Instead of emerging into stardom, both players have had more downs than ups the past two seasons and have spent the better part of their careers in Joe Paterno's dreaded doghouse.
Both of them now know there is a sense of urgency as they prepare for their senior year.
"I need to step up and do what I have to do early," Wallace, a cornerback, said. "I had a couple setbacks here and there, but I feel I just got to fight through what I have to fight through and make sure I can get to that point where I want to be."
Quarless, a tight end, had an emphatic answer when asked if he has undergone an attitude adjustment.
"Definitely, definitely, definitely," he said. "Just more committed, just working every day in practice, playing every practice like it's a game."
Quarless looked like a future NFL star when he caught everything thrown his way as a freshman. He finished with 21 catches for 288 yards and two touchdowns and had a knack for creating space for himself over the middle.
Quarless' freshman season ended well - he caught a touchdown pass from Anthony Morelli in the Outback Bowl against Tennessee - but his career downturn started before his sophomore season began.
He was suspended for the first two games of the 2007 season after an underage drinking violation in August of that year. He also was slapped with a DUI in March of 2008.
Quarless lost his starting job to Mickey Shuler but still has received a lot of playing time the past two years. He has not been the sure-handed receiver, however, that he showed in 2006 as he has dropped numerous balls because of what has appeared to be a lack of concentration.
He caught 14 passes for 205 yards and two TDs in 2007 and had just 11 catches for 117 yards and one score last season.
Quarless also has looked lazy at times and has not dedicated himself to becoming a better blocker. Some of that may have been a byproduct of the Nittany Lions not using the tight end much in the passing game, leading Quarless to lose interest.
"Last year we had great wide receivers," Quarless said. "We still have great wide receivers this year, but you know those guys were just really making the plays for us, and it was working so you keep doing what you've got to do to win."
The Lions will need a rededicated Quarless to help them win this season. With a young receiving corps, he can be a valuable asset to quarterback Daryll Clark.
Quarless looked sharp in Saturday's Blue-White Game, catching four passes for 52 yards, so maybe that was a sign of things to come this fall.
Quarless agreed when asked if his early success may have come too easy for him.
"In a sense, maybe," he said.
"Just think about it, it was a lot," he later added. "I came in at 17 years old. You know as the years progressed I got into some things, but now I feel like I've grown into a young man that is on track."
Wallace had a strong freshman season playing on both sides of the ball. He averaged 24.2 yards per return on 16 kickoff attempts and gained 153 yards on eight rushes for an average of 19.1. He had five plays of more than 40 yards, and on defense he had 10 tackles at cornerback.
Wallace had his best season in 2007, starting the final four games at cornerback and returning a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown against Ohio State. He finished that season with an interception and fumble recovery in the Alamo Bowl against Texas A&M.
Staying healthy has been Wallace's biggest problem. He suffered a hamstring injury in preseason camp last year - that lingered and played a role in him losing his job to Lydell Sargeant - and he endured another hamstring injury this spring.
One reason he gets injured so much may be his questionable work ethic, which has frustrated Paterno.
"It may come with a lack of stretching," Wallace said. "It takes me a little bit longer than everybody else to warm up."
Instead of warming up properly, he has unwisely cut corners.
"When this happened [this spring], I had missed like [individual] period, so everybody was warmed up and I just jumped out into one-on-ones," Wallace said. "So it was I put myself into a situation where I should have just tried to warm up first and then go out, but I just wanted to compete right away and then that happened."
Wallace said he is "absolutely" disappointed about missing opportunities during his career.
"I used to get down on myself, but I just talked to a few people and they just told me to keep my head up, everything happens for a reason," he said. "So I guess the man upstairs has something planned for me bigger, so I'm here for my fourth year for a reason."
That reason will be to help lead an inexperienced secondary that lost all four starters.
Wallace and Quarless have one last chance to make their mark in college and impress NFL scouts. Both have the skills to play at the next level, and they need to come out and prove this fall how badly they want it.