After another dog-day practice at Winter Park and then his standard 15 extra minutes with the JUGS machine, Mike Wallace doesn't appear to be in any rush to leave.
It's a Thursday afternoon, and some teammates already are climbing into their sports cars and luxury SUVs. But Wallace plops down on a bench next to a reporter and proceeds to talk his ear off for 40 minutes.
Before he sits, it is made clear that Wallace doesn't want to talk about what happened in Miami, the events that led to his offseason trade to the Vikings and his 1,800-mile trek to Minnesota. But on this day — and honestly, the same would probably go for just about any other day — the fleet-footed, free-talking wide receiver just can't help himself.
Within 10 minutes, Wallace, answering a question about his former Steelers teammate and mentor Hines Ward, switches the subject to the elephant in the room.
"For the most part, I feel like I've been a great pro," Wallace said. "Nobody hears about me getting in trouble off the field. I've never missed a meeting or been late for anything. I get in trouble for going off because I'm too passionate, going off too much because I want the ball. It's never where you have to go home at night and worry about Mike. … I get a bad rep sometimes, but I feel like I've been a really good pro when it comes to doing my work."
The Vikings coaches and front office did their homework on Wallace before trading a fifth-round pick to the Dolphins in March for him and a seventh-rounder. Some of his new teammates, aware of the claims that Wallace quit on his teammates in Miami, started asking around about Wallace, too.
So far, the Vikings have been pleasantly surprised with Wallace's work ethic and his willingness to be a leader among an inexperienced group of wide receivers, who now flock to JUGS machine post-practice to snatch passes with him.
But even he will admit that none of that matters now on this August afternoon, that everyone will want to see how he reacts if and when things get rocky once the games start to count.
Wallace admits that his outspokenness created issues in his two seasons with the Dolphins. And everything boiled over last December in a season-ending loss to the Jets. Multiple reports citing unnamed sources said that Wallace asked coach Joe Philbin to be removed from the game, and that Philbin obliged.
Philbin publicly denied that Wallace quit that day and said it was a "coach's decision" when asked why Wallace was tethered to the bench in the second half. Wallace acknowledges there was a heated conversation with Philbin on the sideline. But he says Philbin benched him after the argument, and has vehemently denied over the past 8½ months that he quit on his teammates.
"I would never do that," Wallace said. "It's the last game of the season. Who's really going to quit in the middle of a game? I would never do that. You know, it's easy for me to sit here and tell you that. You might believe me. You might not. Honestly, I really don't care. Because I know that didn't happen, even though people said it happened."
Mike and Maurkice Pouncey, brothers and former teammates of Wallace, were critical of him in a March interview with a Miami television station. Maurkice, a center for the Steelers, appeared to call Wallace a "coward" for quitting on the team. Mike, the Dolphins center, said he was "glad that we moved on from that."
Wallace quickly came to their defense, saying on Twitter that their comments were taken out of context.
Whether he quit or not, the Dolphins decided to move on from Wallace, who caught 140 passes for 1,792 yards and 15 touchdowns in two seasons after signing a $60 million contract in 2013.
Future is football
Burnell Michael Wallace III grew up in the rough-and-tumble New Orleans neighborhood of Algiers, where the hyperactive boy with asthma was the fastest kid on the block.
Wallace was surrounded by drugs and violence. His older brother, Reggie, did prison time for selling drugs. And the recent deaths of a cousin and a close friend led Wallace and two other cousins to add up how many people they knew who have died or been killed. They lost count around 55.
But Wallace avoided trouble, spending most of his time playing football or basketball on the local playgrounds. The closest calls came when he was older and gunfire opened up at a pair of block parties he attended, but he was unscathed.
"I only worried about trouble coming to him, not him getting into trouble," his mother, Sonjia, said. "He wasn't that type of person. He clowned around with his friends and liked to play jokes, but I never worried about him going to trouble."
Wallace was a prankster, quick to flash that mischievous grin, the same one who made a few appearances on that practice-field bench last month.
He played organized football on and off, one time quitting when he was in eighth grade.
"At practice, there was too much yelling," Wallace said. "I wasn't ready for all that at the time. Coaches were cussing you out all the time. Where I come from, they weren't holding anything back."
Even though he didn't start taking football seriously until his junior year of high school, Wallace was convinced that he would play in the NFL.
During his senior year at O. Perry Walker High School, he blew by defensive backs to earn all-state honors as a wide receiver. He also returned four kickoffs and four punts for touchdowns while having seven more return scores brought back because of penalties.
"People would tell me how good he was, but I worked a couple of jobs, including one in the evening, so I never got the opportunity to watch him until his senior year," his mother said. "It was really exciting because I didn't know he was that good."
Wallace signed on to play at Ole Miss, where he was perhaps the fastest player in a conference that likes to brag about "SEC speed." And after the Rebels offense opened up enough in his final two years for him to put up numbers that caught the NFL's eyes, the Steelers selected Wallace in the third round of the 2009 draft.
Wallace's wheels immediately made him a dangerous deep threat for strong-armed Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Wallace averaged 21 yards per reception in 2010 while leading the team with 1,257 yards and 10 touchdowns. A year later, he was selected to his first and only Pro Bowl appearance.
But in 2012, Wallace, angling for a new contract, held out at the start of training camp. So the Steelers reportedly pulled the five-year, $42.5 million deal they had offered to Wallace off the table and gave it to fellow wideout Antonio Brown.
Wallace had just 836 receiving yards in his final year in Pittsburgh, leading Ward, who retired in 2011, to say that he thought Wallace lacked focus that season.
"I loved Pittsburgh. Loved it. I can't think of one bad experience I had there," Wallace says now. "Everything was great. People, the fans, coaches, ownership, program. Every single thing about Pittsburgh was A-1, class. Great organization."
In 2013, Wallace chose the Dolphins over the Vikings and other free agency suitors. But while finding the end zone 15 times there, he often was just a highly compensated decoy. Frustrated with his role and his numbers, Wallace lashed out at times.
"Sometimes you grow up and you've got to learn," he said. "There's certain people you have to talk to a certain way. I always felt like I had great intentions, and I had a good heart about certain things, but sometimes it might not come off that way."
'Keep it real'
So who is Mike Wallace? Is he a me-first guy, a quitter with a bad attitude? Or is he just an outspoken and misunderstood 29-year-old man who cares too much?
Sonjia Wallace is biased, but scoffs at the notion that Wallace is a "diva." She says people don't get to see the Wallace who donates his money and time to people in need back in New Orleans. They don't see the way that he is with his two young daughters, who live with his longtime girlfriend in his offseason home of Houston.
"You need to listen to him talk to them," she said. "Just picture Mike going, 'ga-ga goo-goo' with the baby. He's an awesome dad and I'm proud of him for that."
She knows that Wallace can let his emotions get the best of him sometimes. She said he gets that from his father. But she also encouraged each of their five children to speak their minds. However, she insisted that they do it respectfully.
"Sometimes it comes out. It just comes up and it comes out. He doesn't take the opportunity to think all of the time," she said. "But he means no harm. He just wants to speak his mind. And I respect him for it. Because I'd rather you tell me exactly how you feel instead of walking around it and saying things behind my back."
As Wallace put it, "I always keep it real. I always call it for what it is. If I mess up, I messed up. If you mess up, you messed up. I always call a spade a spade."
Wallace called his 2015 season with the Vikings for what it is: a prove-it year.
He is due to make $11.5 million in both the 2016 and 2017 seasons. But if he wears out his welcome here, too, the Vikings can cut him at the end of the season with no financial repercussions.
He bonded with Teddy Bridgewater before training camp, working out with the second-year quarterback in the Miami area. And after a quiet start to the preseason for Wallace, the two connected for a 39-yard pass play against the Cowboys.
"Sometimes change is good, just to recharge the battery and get started in a new place," Ward, his former teammate, said last week. "But what I do know is that Mike Wallace is still talented. … I'm expecting big things out of Mike Wallace this year."
Wallace, of course, still believes he can be that go-to guy. He points to his 47 touchdown catches in six NFL seasons as proof, and he is shooting for 100 receiving touchdowns in his career, a feat that only eight players have pulled off.
"It's going to be extremely hard for me to do. But why not?" Wallace said. "People might look at me like, 'This guy is out of his mind.' But so what? Shoot high. Who is great that sets the bar low? Nobody that I know."
Wallace "loves" being in Minnesota. His mother sees he is happy, too, but she did add "right now" as a caveat.
The Vikings, who have a head coach who also likes to speak candidly and at times colorfully, have been pleased with Wallace so far. Coach Mike Zimmer said that his leadership has surprised him "a little bit." Teammates have embraced him, too.
"He's definitely not the guy that everybody makes him out to be," wide receiver Jarius Wright said. "He's a great guy on and off the field from what I see."
All is well and good now, but Wallace knows that once the season starts, he will be under the microscope, with fans and media scrutinizing his every move on the sideline and watching intently to see how Wallace will react if he doesn't get the ball. Heck, some of teammates and coaches will probably be doing the same thing, too.
But Wallace just plans to be himself — play fast, talk fast and maybe think about it all later.
"I love football. I love my teammates. That's why I go to work and I have fun with them every single day," Wallace said, still lingering outside on the practice fields. "I'm the same person every day. I'm going to make jokes, but I'm going to work hard and lead by example."