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Southwest’s Success Has Been Built Around Quarterback’s Frame

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jesse Wallace resembles a defensive back more than a quarterback, but his 5-foot-11, 205-pound frame helps make him one of L.A. Southwest College’s most bruising runners.

Wallace, who was named the Western State Conference Southern Division player of the year this week, can use his frame to punish smaller defensive backs once he breaks into the secondary on a scramble. He has rushed for 286 yards and four touchdowns during the regular season.

“He’s a quarterback with a linebacker mentality,” Southwest Coach Henry Washington said. “He wants to punish people. Sometimes he gets a little carried away.”

Southwest finished 4-6 in 1990, but with Wallace as quarterback, the Cougars went 7-2-1 and earned a berth in Saturday’s Southern California Bowl at Antelope Valley. Southwest’s opponent will be Antelope Valley College in the 12:30 p.m. game.

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Wallace, 19, accounted for more than half of the team’s offense. He has completed 88 of 174 passes for 1,511 yards and 17 touchdowns.

“He has a lot of talent,” Southwest offensive coordinator Aaron Youngblood said. “He throws the ball really well and with a lot of velocity. Plus he’s very mobile, which makes him a big threat.”

Wallace was a tailback who led the Cougars in rushing as a freshman last year. This will probably be his only season as a collegiate quarterback. Most of the four-year colleges recruiting him, such as Cal State Fullerton and San Jose State, want him to play defense.

“At the next level I’ll probably be a safety or maybe even a tailback,” Wallace said. “I would like to play if possible, but I know it won’t be at quarterback.”

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Wallace should be able to make a successful transition to defense because of his liking for contact. He thrives on challenging defenders by rolling out of the pocket and sprinting toward the end zone.

“I like the punch,” he said. “I’m not scared to take the tackle. I like to run when I get the chance.”

At Monroe High in Sepulveda, Wallace played quarterback, tailback and defensive back. He was also a guard on the Viking basketball team. Last year Wallace was supposed to back up quarterback Craig Manigo, but a series of injuries to backfield personnel left the team with few options.

Despite his success at tailback, Washington wanted Wallace to be a quarterback.

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“We knew he would be a quarterback before he left here,” Washington said. “And he’s turned out to be a solid one. His strength is definitely his athletic ability. Jesse’s had a great season. If it weren’t for a few mistakes, it would be a storybook ending.”

Early in the season, there were questions regarding Wallace’s ability to run the offense. Washington says Wallace was inconsistent and unpolished.

“I was concerned,” Washington said. “He was real rusty at the start. He really threw horrible.”

Wallace had faith that he would return to his high school form. At Monroe, he was a two-time All-Valley Pac Eight League selection at quarterback. As a junior, he passed for 10 touchdowns and rushed for 10 more as the Vikings advanced to the second round of the City playoffs.

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“It wasn’t really hard to adjust from tailback to quarterback,” Wallace said. “The hardest part was getting used to the drop steps and reading over defenses. Throwing wasn’t really a problem.”

Youngblood says Wallace got off to a slow start, but progressed quickly.

“The only thing he really has to improve on is patience,” Youngblood said. “If the initial receiver isn’t open, he won’t look for a second receiver. He just takes off and runs the ball rather than look for an open man.

“But he does real well with the play-action pass. He can fake run, roll or sprint in the other direction. And he’s fairly cool. He doesn’t get rattled, which is a great asset.”

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Wallace will need to play well for Southwest to win its first bowl championship. Antelope Valley (8-2), a solid defensive club, finished second in the Foothill Conference.

“There’s a lot of pressure on us to go up there and win it,” said Wallace, who suffered a sprained left shoulder in the Cougars’ regular-season finale Nov. 23 against West L.A. “Everybody wants the ring and everybody wants to say we made history at Southwest.”

The Cougars appear to have the talent to win. They have four All-WSC players (Wallace, tailback Takim Brown, wide receiver Michael Stephens and lineman Rayne Mack) and four All-WSC defensive players (linemen Victory Myles and Bryan Proby and backs Spencer Wray and Dewayne Bryant).

Wallace says he’ll do whatever it takes to bring home the school’s first bowl trophy. He’s determined to take many hard hits from Antelope Valley defenders.

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“This year we all stuck together and played hard because we wanted to go out with a big bang,” Wallace said. “We’re gonna do the same thing on Saturday.”


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