Senior QB at the Top of His Game
He could have succumbed to the boo birds. He could have transferred after losing his starting job eight games into his redshirt freshman season. He could have let the 16 interceptions from his first year, seven of which were returned for touchdowns, destroy his confidence. He could have left after serving as a backup his sophomore year and earning only one start. He could have quit after only playing intermittently his junior season. He could have bailed on his team. He could have given up.
But that is not the man Jarrett Lee was brought up to be.
"Working your tail off and fighting for what you want has always been huge," Lee said. "My dad always preached that to me. You have to work hard every week and focus, and it will all pay off in the end."
Lee was raised to be the type of man who stuck to his commitment, battled through adversity and stood out as an ultimate leader. To understand who Lee is as a person, one must first understand the origins of the West Texas native and the aura of big-time high school football.
"I grew up in a small town, my dad was a high school football coach, so I looked up to him and those players," Lee said. "I didn't know much about the NFL or much about college, but I did know about those guys playing high school football. They were my heroes."
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Lee transferred to Brenham High School after his father took the offensive coordinator position there. He shined under the Friday night lights and connected on 420 of his 614 passes during his junior and senior seasons for 5,809 yards and 68 touchdowns. He achieved hero status by leading his team to the District 18-4A championship and a berth in the state playoff semifinals as a senior.
"The end of my sophomore year I started getting letters from colleges," Lee said. "That's when the motivation and the drive started to kick in. I really enjoyed all the Texas schools growing up and loved watching them, but I took a visit to LSU and the Tiger Stadium atmosphere was amazing. The facilities, the coaching staff, the players, the winning tradition and the SEC brought me here. It was championship football here."
After being the star of his high school team, Lee found himself as the third quarterback in 2007 behind senior Matt Flynn. The transition to riding the bench, learning the college game and redshirting was not simple.
"It was tough because you've got to understand coming in here we had a pretty good ball club coming off a 2006 Sugar Bowl win," Lee said. "I had to be patient, get into the system and into the playbook. I had an ultimate mentor in Matt Flynn here. That was something he told me and preached about. You're going to come in here and things aren't going to always go as you planned. You have to be patient, know the playbook and work your tail off every week."
During Lee's redshirt freshman season in 2008 he led the Tigers to a 4-4 record as a starter, passing for 1,873 yards, 14 touchdowns and 16 interceptions before an ankle injury cut his season short.
"I grew tremendously as a quarterback. It was an up and down year, but I had a lot of positives and a lot of negatives," Lee said. "I grew up as a player and as a person. I knew there were two roads that I could take. I could either take the negative route, sulk on it, possibly transfer and do that whole deal. Or I could be positive. Mature as a player and person and stick it out here knowing my opportunity would come here. I'm glad I did that."
The following two seasons, Lee battled Jordan Jefferson for playing time. Jefferson won the starting job for the 2009 campaign, and Lee led the Tigers to victory in his one start against Louisiana Tech.
Jefferson again was the starter in 2010, but the two quarterbacks operated in a dual system where both of them received playing time. Lee amassed 573 yards and two touchdowns on 54 completions. He was instrumental in leading important drives against Tennessee and Alabama as well as completing the game-winning touchdown pass to Terrence Toliver at Florida. The duo led the Tigers to a Cotton Bowl victory and an 11-2 record.
"Whether you are the starter or not you have to go into each and every week and prepare as if you are the starter," Lee said. "You never know when your number is going to be called. Whether someone gets injured or unfortunate situations happen, if you get thrown in there and are not prepared, you're going to regret it for the rest of your life."
After camp this spring, Jefferson was again tabbed as the starter. But due to an off-the-field-incident in August, Jefferson was suspended and Lee was named the starting quarterback against Oregon in the Cowboys Classic.
Prior to the game Lee heard loud sounds booming from the LSU student section in Cowboys Stadium. His name was being chanted. He had come full circle from his freshman season.
"It felt great hearing the support from the fans in the opening game in Cowboys Stadium," Lee said. "I had my ups and downs. I felt honored and I appreciated that the fans have seen how much I have worked to get to that point. It feels good with the dedicated fans we have to hear them chant your name. It brings a confidence and motivation to you."
Lee led the Tigers to a dominating 40-27 win and views that victory as the first of hopefully many more highlights in his career.
Following Jefferson's return three weeks ago from his four-game suspension, media reports revolved around the apparent quarterback controversy. Lee has thrown for 11 touchdowns compared to one interception and led the Tigers to a 7-0 start against one of the toughest schedules in the nation. Jefferson has won 20 games as a starter for LSU. The debate about who should be the starter, however, did not affect the team.
"To get where we want to go, where we want to be, we understand that the two of us are going to coexist," Lee said. "The media is going to do what they're going to do. Fans are going to say what they're going to say. We know in this locker room and within the LSU football program what needs to get done. We have each other's backs. We're not going to let anything on the perimeter bother us because we have somewhere we want to go."
The team is far from its ultimate goal with five games still remaining in the regular season. However, as the starting quarterback of the No. 1 team in the country, Lee reflects on how far he has come from his days where high school players were legends.
"I never really envisioned being the starting quarterback for the No. 1 team in the nation," Lee said. "We have a long way to go. We understand that every week someone can knock you off. It's that simple. It's happened before. We have a lot of football left to play."
Lee believes that his time at LSU has molded him into the man and leader he was destined to be.
"I'm on a route to graduate in December and get a degree from LSU, and that is number one," Lee said. "I've grown a lot as a person and player at LSU. It has been a long road but I don't regret any of it. I had a lot of people in my life that have helped me through this. I'm just trying to help our team improve every week and get to our final goal at the end of the year. I think we can make that happen. We have a special group of guys and a special staff. We have a special thing going."