A.J. Wallace has been having a tough year.
He suffered a broken jaw in spring practice when his helmet was knocked askew in a collision, jamming his facemask into his chin. He developed hamstring problems in the preseason, and he got sick in September when, after returning to his apartment famished, he slurped down a bowl of day-old soup.
When you get taken down by your own dinner, you know you're having a bad season. Said the junior Penn State cornerback, I just felt like everything that could go wrong at that possible moment was going wrong.
Wallace was also initially implicated when police discovered marijuana in the apartment he shares with teammates Maurice Evans, Abe Komora and Andrew Quarless. Although he was quickly cleared of any wrongdoing (as was Quarless), the episode added a bit of unwelcome drama to an already difficult month.
But he's coming around now, and none too soon as far as the Nittany Lions are concerned. With Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State coming up, they need all the manpower they can get.
Wallace started the Lions' game at Purdue last Saturday in place of Lydell Sargeant. It was his first start of the season, and it felt good to finally win the job he had thought would be his all along.
I feel as though I'm preparing for the game much better, Wallace said. I'm playing every play. I used to go out there and take a play or two off. But I feel I'm focusing in on every play, being ready for what can happen and seeing tendencies and other things
that I can use to my advantage.
Wallace's injury problems were especially unfortunate in that the Lions had big plans for him going into the season.
We thought A.J. would play a little bit of offense as well as defense
as kind of a backup guy to Derrick Williams in case Derrick got banged up or tired, head coach Joe Paterno said. Then he got the hamstring pull. That set him back a little bit.
The injury scotched those plans, and it limited him on special teams, where he had excelled as a kick returner. But the biggest problem was his absence in the defensive backfield.
Now, things are looking up. With Wallace coming around and fellow cornerbacks Sargeant and Tony Davis both healthy, Paterno said he's hopeful that the Lions have the depth they will need to handle the most hazardous part of their schedule.
We've got three inside guys [at safety] now and three outside guys, he said, which is a big plus for us.
Wallace is looking forward to Saturday's matchup with Wisconsin, even though the Badgers are known mostly for their running game. Their 125 passing attempts may be the fewest in the Big Ten by far, and they don't have a wideout ranked in the league's top 10 in receptions or receiving yards. But the atmosphere in Camp Randall Stadium is sure to be electric with the Badgers hungry for a victory after two losses and the school's marching band possibly back in action after sitting out last week's game against Ohio State due to a hazing scandal.
Wallace can't wait.
I like that type of atmosphere, he said. My freshman year, I was just amazed by their crowd participation and how the crowd got into it. And it wasn't even a night game. So I can just imagine how crazy it's going to be.
I saw the Ohio State-Wisconsin game and how crazy that was. And they didn't even have their band. With their band there also, I think it's going to be a great environment to play in. I think it's going to give us a great adrenaline rush. All the guys are going to be ready to go. It gets me motivated because there are going to be more eyes on us looking to see if we can step up to the challenge. I think we definitely will.