Sometimes great gifts come in smaller packages.
Whether running back Brandon Lee — all 5-foot-6 and 165 pounds of him — turns out to be that on the football field remains to be seen. However, the University of Akron walk-on possesses something that can’t be taught.
A Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native who spent time at Mount Union last year before coming to the Zips, Lee exhibited it on more than one occasion during spring practices — so much so that he certainly stands out as someone who demands attention whenever he's on the field.
“He’s doing a great job out here and making a lot of big plays,” UA coach Tom Arth said of Lee.
Fresh from practice Thursday, Lee didn't hesitate when asked what people notice first about him.
“My size,” he said.
Then he quickly added in rat-tat-tat fashion: “My speed. My quickness. My competitiveness. My heart.”
He’s also confident.
“I was at the University of Mount Union and I decided that I could do better,” he said. “I was going to go back home and walk on at [Florida International University], but I decided because I was up this way and a new coaching staff came and I knew a lot of people from back home [here], I spoke to them and stayed.”
He said he had offers out of high school, but believes schools backed off because of his height.
“They wouldn’t take a chance, so I just had to take it upon myself and get back to it,” he said.
Arth said Lee’s size shouldn’t be an issue.
“That’s us. We’ve got to understand what he does really well,” he said. “What are his strengths, and how can we put him in position to use those? That’s what we’re trying to do with him and not put him in a situation where his size is going to limit what he can do. He’s certainly made the most of the opportunities he’s been given.”
Yes, with his size comes a chip on Lee's shoulder, that undeniable desire to prove wrong everyone who thought he was too small. It works hand-in-hand with that confidence.
“I have a big shot,” Lee said when asked if he thought he could earn significant playing time. “I just have to come in here each and everyday and prove myself more and more and show the coaching staff they can take a chance and believe in me while I’m on the field and just give everything I’ve got.”
Arth has certainly noticed.
“He’s shown to be a versatile player who can carry the ball and he’s also a weapon on the passing game,” Arth said after Thursday’s practice. “From our perspective, how we like to play, what we like to do with our running backs, he’s a really good fit in our offense.”
However, at that size, why take the chance in such a violent game?
“Why not take the chance? Why not prove everybody wrong? Why not be another Tyreek Hill [of the Kansas City Chiefs]? Or Tavon Austin [of the Dallas Cowboys]? Or other people that proved everybody else wrong and made it into the [National Football] League,” he asked.
Better still, why not emulate former Zips wide receiver JoJo Natson, who has found a home as a kick returner with the Los Angeles Rams and played in the most recent Super Bowl, a loss to the New England Patriots. Some called into question Natson’s size during his college career.
“That’s my boy. I trained with him. We talk,” Lee said cracking a smile.
And, yes, Lee talked to him about playing at UA. He said more often than not they don’t talk about obstacles to them playing, but do discuss just being good football players. The other stuff? It’s background noise.
“I’m here now and that’s all that matters,” Lee said.
Odds and ends
Arth and his staff will host 25 to 35 elite juniors and their families at Saturday’s practice. ... Saturday will also be Campus Appreciation Day. Members of the team were asked to reach out to five members of the UA community they know and invite them to witness what goes on.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByGeorgeThomas.