It's games like Saturday's that make Jarrett Lee's long and twisted path all worth it. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
It's been a dream season for Jarrett Lee. A season he likely envisioned when he signed his LOI way back in 2007. The path wasn't smooth. In fact, I doubt Lee ever thought this would all play out like it has. From being tossed into the mix far too early in his career to never regaining the starting role until a tumultuous bar brawl that was sure to ruin LSU's season and National Title hopes. There is nothing new about the story I'm trying to tell. But to me, that doesn't mean it's not a story worth telling.
Eight days before the season-opening battle against an Oregon team fresh off a national championship appearance, Jarrett Lee gets the news: You are now the man. For how long, who knows? But that doesn't matter. What matters is that right here, right now, you are the man. Lee embraced the opportunity. He spent the offseason working himself into the best shape of his life, trimming off baby fat, tirelessly working with Kragthrope and Studrawa to improve himself as a player. He put himself into the absolute best situation to achieve... this before even knowing he would be the starting QB. It's a testament to his character.
Everyone and their mother (well, except Les Miles) thought Jarrett Lee should transfer. Jimbo Fisher told him to leave. Gary Crowton, in a final act of attempting to murder the LSU offense, thought it a good idea. His family likely even thought Jarrett should roll the dice and try to land somewhere where he'd no doubt be the starting QB. But he persisted and he stayed at LSU. Why? Well, we can only speculate. Jarrett Lee is the only person who really knows the answer to that question.
None of this unfolded as Jarrett Lee would have expected. Yet, I'm not sure he would trade the experience for anything. It would be easy to write an endless number of cliches about adversity here. It's not that they are untrue; it's just that they have already been written a thousand times by a hundred other writers. I can't say with any certainty that Jarrett Lee would be who is he today, doing the the things he is doing, without the painful 2008 season. I can't say with any certainty that he wouldn't be either.
It seems that Lee put in a call to Walt Disney (yeah, I don't care if he's deceased), asked him if he had any un-produced comeback sports stories lying around and Walt, generous as ever, dug something up for him. I mean, really?
When Lee signed in 2007, many expected him to be the QB of the future. We were in a position of tremendous depth, with Jamarcus Russell having a tremendous 2007 season, Matt Flynn waiting in the wings and uber-talented Ryan Perrilloux itching to get his chance right behind them. It was the perfect situation for Lee: come in, sit for a couple of years and by your RS So. or Jr. year, you are a mature, smart athlete ready to take the reigns. Except, it didn't happen that way.
In 2008, Lee became arguably one of the most hated players in Tiger history. Fans booed him. Teammates quit on him. Everyone was calling for the other guy (not so much Andrew Hatch, but more so Jordan Jefferson). Six pick sixes, a handful of blowouts and the "season that shall not be mentioned" later, and Lee landed himself squarely in back-up duty, seemingly to never return. He played sparingly in 2009. In 2010 his role increased, as he was brought in to jump start our pedestrian passing offense. But still, he was the back-up and his role faded as Jefferson's play greatly improved down the stretch.
Enter 2011, and once again, Lee loses the QB battle (if there even was one), and it appears that once again he'll be holding a clip board for most of the season. He looked like the fire extinguisher of QBs... break only in case of emergency. Rave reviews poured in for Jefferson, and not just from LSU beat writers... national pundits and analysts gushed about his improved throwing ability and the obvious strides which were made under Kragthrope and Studrawa. Whatever doubts were raised in 2010, seemed completely erased... until August 26th.
America loves their comeback stories. And by god, they've got one in Jarrett Lee. Yet, I cannot stress this enough: this is no act of fortune. Sure, the ball (maybe finally) bounced Jarrett's way after Jefferson's incident. But, the successes of Jarrett Lee should be attributed to Jarrett Lee.
He could have quit. He could have transferred. He could have simply mailed it in and been content to ride out his scholarship as a body, going through the motions. But he didn't. Lee embraced the frustration, and the anxiety. Lee embraced the struggle. He embraced the criticism. He embraced his teammates. He embraced the coaching.
I give credit to Kragthorpe and Studrawa and Miles for believing him. I give them credit for putting him in position to succeed. But Jarrett Lee is succeeding because of Jarrett Lee. But he'd the last person to tell you that. "Credit to the offensive line..." "Credit to Rueben Randle..." "Credit to Spencer Ware..." he's said it time and time again.
I'm not saying Jarrett Lee is the sole reason for LSU's success. No, I believe LSU would be successful notwithstanding Lee's performance. Yet, would they be this good? Sure, he may not throw for 500 yards like Landry Jones. Sure, the entire offense may not revolve around his productivity and decision making like Andrew Luck. Sure, he may not be a one-man wrecking crew like Cameron Newton last year. But, his quiet efficiency, his stability, his dependability... his doing exactly what he is asked is more than enough.
And again, I can't stress it enough: Jarrett Lee deserves all the credit in the world for that. Because if he didn't take it seriously, if he didn't put in the time, if he didn't endure the struggles, none of this would have happened. Lee didn't just hope for the opportunity to play again. He anticipated it.
Earlier I mentioned I could only speculate why Jarrett Lee stuck it out. True enough. But, I have to believe it's for game's like this. It's for Saturday. It's for playing Alabama for a chance to win the SEC and play for a National Championship. But, you say, he could have transferred to another school and had that opportunity? Not like this, though. Not with some of the best friends he'll ever have. Not at a school that's gone from loving to hating to loving him over a 5-year period.
The Jarrett Lee mythology grows seemingly by the week. With each victory a new chapter is etched into the stones. He continues to climb through the LSU record books. He continues to grow adoration in thousands and thousands of Tiger fans across the world. In many ways, he's becoming one of the most beloved and revered athletes in LSU history* and exactly none of this has played out like anyone ever expected.
*depending on how the rest of the season unfolds, of course.
So Saturday, when you take the field, Jarrett, take a moment to not credit everyone else for this. "Credit Jarrett Lee..." because you've earned this. You've earned this opportunity. You've earned this praise. You've earned the right to compete with this team. But I know you won't... because that's not you. You understand you are a part of a bigger whole. And frankly, that's exactly why you are where you are today.
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