November 25, 2009 5:19:00 PM
Danny P Smith -
Tyson Lee is a leader.
It''s a trait the Mississippi State quarterback has tried to present throughout his football career.
Through his dedication, determination, and faith, Lee, a former standout at Columbus High School and Itawamba Community College, has gained respect from coaches and teammates.
"Tyson is an awesome person," MSU junior center J.C. Brignone said. "Off the field, he''s somebody you can talk to about anything. On the field, he leads us through everything and gets us going the right way. He keeps us poised, and it''s going to be tough to lose him."
Lee will play in his final college football game at 11:21 a.m. Saturday (WCBI) when the Bulldogs take on the University of Mississippi in Starkville. He will be one of 15 seniors recognized as part of Senior Day activities.
One of the other seniors, running back Anthony Dixon, has developed a bond with Lee and treats him like a brother.
Dixon said Lee has helped him deal with adversity in the past two years.
"Tyson is a good person on and off the field," Dixon said. "He has composure and focus all of the time. I admire how he keeps calm and the way he responds to adversity.
"He''s been a person you can go talk to and he won''t shoot you a lot of nonsense. He''s on point with a lot of conversation you have with him. I''m always going to keep that love and respect for him."
To return some of that love, Lee plans to invite some of his teammates, who don''t have time to go home for Thanksgiving, to a celebration with his family in Columbus.
Lee played at Columbus High from 2003-05 for coach Rusty Funk. Funk recognized early Lee was someone who could be a leader for his team.
"When I first got there and Tyson was our backup quarterback as a sophomore to Gabe O''Neal, you could see the ability in Tyson and the way he carried himself with his attitude about playing," Funk said. "You could see what he had in him then. He was just a special type of kid."
Lee hopes to continue a life centered around a leadership role although it might not have anything to do with football.
Once he graduates in May, Lee would like to attend graduate school and get a master''s degree in administration.
Lee hopes to work with children, and that job could lead to coaching, but he said he would like to become a principal.
Funk wasn''t surprised to hear Lee''s goals.
"He''s the type of person you would want leading kids," Funk said. "He''s someone you would want your kids to be like."
Lee hopes to be a student teacher somewhere in the spring.
"If someone calls me in Mississippi, that''s where I''ll be," Lee said. "I''m just anxious to see where the road leads."
This week has been all about preparing for his final game as quarterback for the Bulldogs.
Improvement has been the focus for Lee since he arrived at MSU.
"As far as statistics and what I''ve tried to do on the field, has it gotten better? I don''t know," Lee said. "My mind-set is to continue to get better and to compete. I won''t change the way I prepare, but hopefully my execution level will increase (against Ole Miss)."
Lee is 278 of 472 passing (2,911 yards, 11 touchdowns) and a school-record 59 completion percentage. He has the two top single-season marks of 59 percent (153 of 260) in 2007 and (125 of 212) this season.
Lee''s completion percentage is impressive, but he also has 18 interceptions, including 13 this season.
The interceptions concern Lee, but he realizes a quarterback must learn how to handle them.
"It''s just the nature of the game," Lee said. "It''s the last thing I want to do. I''d rather have all touchdowns than interceptions. One thing about playing quarterback, you can''t really worry about that. Interceptions happen, but you have to learn from them and don''t let them get you down.
"If you let it get you down, it will keep you down and guys on the team lose confidence in you and you lose confidence in yourself. You must understand that it happens, but you try to avoid it and play as well as you can."
Brignone said that attitude inspires the offensive line to do its job better.
"We''re the ones who are supposed to be protecting him and keeping him focused," Brignone said. "We should make sure he doesn''t get rattled."
Even with the interceptions, MSU coach Dan Mullen said there''s no questioning Lee''s heart.
Since he became coach last December, Mullen said Lee hasn''t failed to give every ounce of energy in preparation for the season and games.
"He works real hard in conditioning, in the weight room, and practice," Mullen said. "Being a very competitive person is all you can ask for as a coach from a quarterback."
Lee has started 19 consecutive games at quarterback. That streak should reach 20 Saturday, even though sophomore Chris Relf played the entire second half Saturday against the University of Arkansas.
In whatever playing time he gets against the Rebels, Lee said just being on the field for the final time will make for an "emotional and unbelievable" experience.
"I''ve got a lot going through my mind," Lee said. "When I think of how fast four years (of junior college and college) have flown by, it''s overwhelming."
Lee said not having the daily grind of lifting weights, watching film, and practicing will be new. He''s not sure how he''ll react not having those responsibilities.
The only immediate plan Lee has is to enjoy Thanksgiving and be rested for Ole Miss.
"I want to eat a lot of turkey and get a lot of sleep," Lee said.