LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee emerges as new leader as season approaches

Dave Moormann
LSU quarterback Jarrett Lee led the Tigers on a game-winning drive, capped by a 3-yard fade pass to Terrence Toliver with six second left, to beat Florida 33-29 Saturday night in the Swamp.

At a time when the LSU football program seems to embody everything wrong with college athletics, out steps senior quarterback Jarrett Lee, the Tigers’ knight in shining purple-and-gold armor.

Pardon the overdramatization, but someone like Lee is what the Tigers need right now. He’s a showcase for the sportsmanship of amateur athletics.

If anyone has earned another chance, it’s Lee. While senior quarterback Jordan Jefferson squandered an enormous opportunity with his arrest and suspension last week, Lee continued to persevere and prepare just as he has since he first arrived at LSU in 2007.

Lee redshirted that initial season and then was thrust into a starting role the next year. Seven of Lee’s 16 interceptions were returned for touchdowns in 2008, which is enough to try the patience of any man, let alone a first-year player under the microscope of often unforgiving Tiger Stadium fans.

Rather than cut and run, Lee took his medicine like the class individual he is. He faced the media after all his mistakes and patiently answered question after insensitive question. He didn’t even flinch – at least not publicly, anyway – when the headline of a story read, “LSU's Jarrett Lee Is a Walking Pick Six”.

Fast forward three years, and Lee is now a grizzled veteran, or at least an experienced performer who seems to value what’s important in life. The son of a Texas high school coach, Lee didn’t run back home at the first sign of adversity. Or the second. Or the third.

He remained at LSU not only to improve as a player, but also to work towards his degree in sports administration. Lee’s college career has been about more than being a football player. He’s used his time on campus to grow as a person and to develop skills that will help him deal with whatever life may throw him.

Lee is not infallible. He’s a 22-year-old student who makes mistakes like everyone else. He’s intelligent to learn from them, though, and hopefully to minimize their damage.

In a perfect world, Lee would lead LSU to the BCS national championship. In fact, Sporting News reaffirmed its believe that LSU will win it all. The Associated Press ranked LSU fourth in its preseason poll, although in light of recent events that doesn’t look so obtainable any more.

Jefferson, a starter for two-plus years, and sophomore linebacker Josh Johns were suspended indefinitely after their arrest on second-degree battery chargers stemming from an altercation outside a bar near the LSU campus.

Jefferson and Johns were among a group of about 20 players who broke curfew by at least three hours. That’s nearly a fourth of the team guilty of an infraction. Add to all of LSU’s other off-the-field woes, and the future’s not as promising as it once was.

Junior wide receiver Russell Shepard has been suspended for at least the Sept. 3 season opener against Oregon after violating an NCAA regulation for having spoken with a teammate about an NCAA investigation into his housing situation.

LSU already had survived one NCAA investigation with LSU policing itself with the loss of scholarships. The Tigers hardly needed anything else to draw undue attention to themselves, but trouble seems to be dogging them at every turn.

Sophomore defensive end Sam Montgomery and sophomore quarterback Zach Mettenberger reportedly had loaded guns pointed at them during a June altercation in a campus apartment parking lot. East Baton Rouge Parish district attorney Hillar Moore III said he will pursue charges against the two other men involved in the fight.

This preseason hasn’t gone quite the way LSU figured given the high expectations surrounding the team and the promise that it showed. But, then, life has a way of doing that sometimes. How you handle tough times says a lot about your character.

Lee has shown his to be strong and solid – a perfect example for his teammates to follow.