Newly-acquired Redskins offensive tackle James Lee has encountered several bumps in life.
From a rough upbringing, to transferring from a national championship-contending college football program to a small, Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) school, to meandering off and on active NFL rosters, the 26-year-old Lee can certainly boast an unusual path to Washington.
Fittingly, Lee told prointerviews.org’s Max Strauss that his life can be summed up in one description: like a helping of butter pecan ice cream.
“Why would I describe myself that way? I guess you can call the pecans, bumps in the road. In my life, I’ve had bumps and trials and at the end of the day, I end up getting through them all. It still turned out for me to be a good situation.”
Lee told Strauss that he had a rough upbringing in the southern Florida community of Belle Glade, but was inspired by watching his parents and others nearby struggle through their troubles to provide for their families.
Lee starred on the defensive line in high school — where he was teammates with the likes of Santonio Holmes, Ray McDonald, Damien Berry and Randy Phillips — before being heavily recruited by some of the top colleges in the nation. Lee chose the University of Georgia, and said he quickly found himself veering down a troublesome path.
“I wasn’t getting my work done. I was kind of just out of control, I would say. I wasn’t going to class. I wasn’t doing the right things, put it like that.”
So Lee decided to put an end to his troubles by transferring to South Carolina State University, an FCS school that saw 20,000 to 25,000 football fans in its stands — and not around 93,000 fans, as is the norm at Georgia.
The decision didn’t immediately pay off for Lee, he told Strauss.
“It was hard. It was different. We’re talking about a DI school going to transfer to DI-AA. Having some of the nicest facilities, and having some of the nicest cafeterias to the dorm rooms, etc. And back in 2005, it was rough in South Carolina State. One small school, predominantly black, and it wasn’t easy for me at first, but I had to get that whole Georgia mentality out of me that everything’s going to be given to me. And from there, I just understood how things are going to go. I adapted and made it happen.”
Adapt he did. Lee appeared in 33 games with 31 starts at South Carolina State. As a senior, he was named third-team All-American by the Associated Press and was an honorable mention choice for the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) All-America squad.
Lee’s rollercoaster ride didn’t end there, however. He went undrafted and eventually signed as a rookie free agent with the Cleveland Browns, who cut the youngster after the final preseason game that year.
Since that time, Lee has been on and off active NFL rosters. He has appeared in 19 games over the last four years, starting 10 for former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach — and current Redskins secondary coach — Raheem Morris. Lee’s big season was in 2010, when he started nine games en route to the playoffs, helping the Buccaneers average 125.1 rushing yards per game, which ranked third in the NFC (eighth in the NFL).
He’s even become an internet sensation, the Redskins’ Brian Tinsman found out last month.
But through it all, Lee’s honesty and battle-tested attitude should make him a natural fit on this Redskins roster.
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