Wallace grinned. He knew Central coach Woodrow Lowe loved him and wanted good things for him, but for one day couldn’t root for Auburn’s starting quarterback to win a football game.
“He says when it comes down to these two teams, he’s got to go with his alma mater,” Wallace said. “Of course he’ll be cheering for Alabama.”
A three-time All-American linebacker under Bear Bryant in the 1970s, Lowe actually has another less obvious reason to support Alabama.
Wallace isn’t the only Central alum in uniform for this game – his high school center, Paul Waldrop, is a walk-on lineman for the Crimson Tide. He won’t play, but he’ll suit up and be on the opposing sideline from Wallace and the Tigers Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.
Wallace and Waldrop go way back — to Little League football, when they were 10-year-old buddies playing for different teams. The athletic Wallace was playing just about every position, but he remembers Waldrop — who’s now listed at 6-foot-4, 267 pounds — winging it out at quarterback.
“He was pretty good,” Wallace said. “His ball was pretty good. He could throw a tight spiral.”
The Red Devils went 30-7 from 2009-11, including a Class 6A-Region 3 championship during Wallace and Waldrop’s senior year in which they helped set a program record averaging 39.4 points per game.
“I had my linemen over senior year, brought the guys over for a little dinner,” Wallace said. “I used to go over to his house sometimes and just hang out with him and some of the other guys. So we had a really close relationship, and still do.
“When we’re about to talk to each other, we definitely chat a little bit. It’s going to be pretty cool.”
Wallace and Waldrop have talked a few times this season, on the weekend, just catching up. Waldrop grew up a huge Alabama fan, and Wallace knows Saturday’s Iron Bowl — the first Wallace has even so much as attended, much less played in — will be special for both young men.
“Definitely after the game,” Wallace said, “I’ll try to get over there with him.”
Because of Alabama’s policy that doesn’t allow freshmen to talk to the media, Waldrop wasn’t available for comment.
But a quick look at their Twitter accounts on Nov. 16 saw the two wishing each other luck before Auburn’s game against Alabama A&M and Alabama’s game versus Western Carolina.
This weekend Wallace knows the odds: Auburn isn’t being given much of a chance by anyone to compete with the second-ranked Crimson Tide.
“It’s really a blessing, I must say. I’m very excited. I can’t wait,” Wallace said. He was rather reflective when considering his role in arguably the country’s most intense college football rivalry.
“It’s unreal. It really is. I can’t really say. It’s more about pride for your school. No matter what your record is, no matter what the circumstances, none of that stuff really matters. Whether you’re having a great year or a bad year, this game sets itself apart from everything else.”
Wallace drew praise from Alabama coach Nick Saban Wednesday for stabilizing Auburn’s offense. He knows he’ll have to improve his play against SEC opponents, which has included some success against Texas A&M’s prevent defense in mop-up time and zero points in his first SEC start against Georgia.
“He’s going to have a heck of an experience,” offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said. “The one time I was able to play in that stadium, it’s a great environment. It’s loud, it’s hostile, and on top of that, you’re playing a great defense.
“He just needs to have 100 percent concentration on that (next) play, and worry about what he can control.”