Evan Wallace is afloat with eagerness over the chance to perk up the University at Buffalo's passing game, which at times last season performed like it had a slow leak.
Experience is thin at wide receiver, and Wallace, a transfer from West Valley (Calif.) Junior College, is being asked to step forward and find his way immediately.
"As a JC player, they bring you here for a reason," said Wallace, who enrolled at UB in January. "You have two years to play, so you have to make the most of it. Whatever the team wants me to do, I'm here to contribute and play my part to help us win games this year."
The 5-foot-8, 180-pound Wallace, already working with the first team in spring practice, is a fundamentally sound wideout who can stretch the defense, something the program has lacked since Andre Forde left in 2002. Wallace, who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, had 42 receptions for 654 yards and eight touchdowns for West Valley last season. He already has packed on 18 pounds of muscle in 12 weeks.
"As a junior-college transfer, Evan certainly has some life maturity, some athletic maturity, and he's got skill," UB coach Jim Hofher said. "He's done a very consistent job throughout the offseason as well as on the football field. He has confidence in his hands, has quick feet, good speed and excellent body control. He wants to make good catches."
Tulsa was the only other Division I-A school to recruit Wallace, who also was pursued by Montana, Idaho State and Hampton. Looking to fill a need, UB recruited Wallace aggressively.
"I love the fact that the coaches were so open to me coming out here," said Wallace, a cousin of boxer Roy Jones Jr. "I came out here in a pretty quick period, my recruiting process was only a week, so just the fact that they were so open to bring me out here and were really gung-ho about it made me want to come out here and make the most of the opportunity. . . . The hardest thing is coming in and learning the new offense. Once you get your feet wet and understand what the offense is, then you . . . start making plays like I did in the past."
The Bulls definitely need more playmakers in the receiving corps. Departed senior Matt Knueven led the team in receptions with just 29. The Bulls had only five touchdown catches, although some of the problems can be traced to the unpredictable play at quarterback. In 2003, the Bulls had only six TD receptions, four by Knueven.
The leading returner from a year ago is sophomore Terrance Breaux with 23 receptions. No one else had more than 13.
The Bulls were so desperate for help they moved senior Dave Dawson, who led the team in rushing in 2003, to wideout, although he's missed most of the spring with a hamstring injury. Junior Brian Watson and sophomores Bryan Kisabeth and Jeff Green have some experience but are raw. Three more high school wideouts signed in February -- Ernest Jackson from Rochester, Brett Hamlin from Florida and Gary Rice from Ohio -- but Hofher would prefer to redshirt them all.
Someone needs to emerge.
"My plan is to come out here, play my best and definitely help this team out," Wallace said. "I know I can make some plays. I run pretty good patterns, I'm not a burner compared to anyone else but the way that I run my patterns has helped me out."
Photograph on Picture Page. C10