November 27, 2013 5:30:44 PM
Tyson Lee made sure his cell phone was fully charged every Friday night during the 2012 football season.
Lee's younger brother, Trace, was in his first season as the starting quarterback for the Columbus High School football program.
Tyson needed updates, and he needed them constantly. Being more than 400 miles away from home for the first time meant the need for news was urgent.
"It was very hard on me," Tyson Lee said. "My mom (Tammy Nordquist) and sister (Tamber Lee) would send me texts throughout the game, and I really needed to know every little detail. After the game, they would get the game film and send it to me. I would watch it on the computer. It was unique and certainly different."
In a lot of ways, this season was much better.
After spending a year working in the NFL as a scouting assistant for the St. Louis Rams, Tyson returned home in May to take a position with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter at Mississippi State.
"This season was special in a lot of ways," Trace Lee said. "Since it was my final season to play high school football, it meant a lot to me to have my best friend and big brother there to support me. My mother and my sister were always there to provide emotional support, but with Tyson back, everything was different. It was complete again.
"Christ is working in (Tyson's) life, and I knew He had a plan for having him in St. Louis for that year. I was fortunate it all worked out and the timing was right for him to come back home."
Tyson played quarterback at Columbus High. He later played the same position at Itawamba Community College and MSU. His relationship with former MSU coach Sylvester Croom paved the way for the job opportunity in St. Louis.
"The opportunity to come back home and work at my alma mater was like a dream come true," Tyson Lee said. "I am doing what I love to do, and I am still around sports. This position is full of mentoring opportunities. Each day I am watching boys become men.
"We work with student-athletes in all sports. It is great having an impact, being able to invest in their lives, helping make them become better persons and successful in their jobs, with their families and in their lives."
Some of Tyson's mentoring has been off-the-clock and has taken place at home.
"The best thing about my relationship with Tyson is we do brother-type things," Trace Lee said. "We can have a normal conversation without it ever leading to football. Other times I can go to him for advice. He has been through all of the things that I am going through. It is a relief when you know somebody is there to love, protect, and guide you like that."
Trace started earning playing time at quarterback as a sophomore, alternating with Cedrick Jackson. The Falcons won seven games that season but failed to make the playoffs. Jackson was primarily a running quarterback and Lee was used more in passing situations.
During Trace's initial foray into Class 6A football, Tyson Lee was ready to coach his brother.
"It is so funny because when he first started getting to play, we were all excited," Tyson Lee said. "At first, it was time to critique this or that. As he has gotten older, it has become more about encouragement. After a game, I will ask him a couple of questions about what he saw in certain circumstances But I quickly found out the best thing I could do is to be in his corner. I quickly became more of an encourager. It was more encouragement than Xs and Os. I would hope he would say the same thing about how our relationship has developed."
As Trace has emerged as a key performer and as a leader for the Columbus football, soccer, and baseball programs, Tyson has taken greater pride in his brother's growth as a man.
"It has been great to watch him grow and mature as an athlete," Tyson Lee said. "The thing I am most proud of is his growth and progression as a man. The way he leads other people and the way he has conversations with other people really impresses me. The way he has become a man is the most exciting thing to me."
Trace credits his mother, sister, and brother for helping instill the discipline and work ethic needed to be successful in life. A strong conviction to his faith has strengthened that bond.
"God has blessed with me athletic ability," Trace Lee said. "I play the game to glorify Him. I do all things through Christ who strengthens me and gives me this opportunity. Being raised in a single-parent household is a major challenge.
"You have to really learn how to grow up fast. Tyson assumed that leadership role, and I really wanted to be like him. I wanted to learn how to do the things he was doing."
Trace's early desire to become a leader has served him well in athletics. In football, the quarterback is almost always the team leader. In baseball, Trace plays middle infield and pitches. As a pitcher, he has control of the situation and his teammates look to him to lead.
"I am like a kid at heart," Trace Lee said. "In football, I know it is my job to motivate and lead by example. In baseball, I love to pitch because I feel like I am in complete control of the situation."
In the past three seasons, the Columbus football program has won 18 games. The Columbus baseball program shared a region title with Grenada in 2012. Last season, it was the runner-up in the region and advanced to the playoffs for the third-consecutive season for the first time in history. Both sports are on the uptick and Trace is playing a big role in that success.
Tyson is playing an equally big role at MSU. In six months under his leadership, the FCA program continues to evolve. FCA's keynote event is a weekly Bible study on Monday nights, which draws students-athletes from every sport. The FCA holds a weekly Wednesday morning Bible study at Starkville High. On Thursday morning, there is a men's Bible study that attracts a good number of student-athletes and non-athletes. On Sunday night, there usually is a fellowship with dinner and a Bible study.
During the week, Tyson does multiple one-on-ones with student-athletes.
"It is a chance to catch up and see what is going on in their lives," Tyson Lee said. "We can talk about anything that is going on their lives and see if we can't make a situation better. Christ is working through so many of our student-athletes. It's a challenging, rewarding job every day."
As the holidays approach, Tyson is thankful for his family relationships and his new position. He also is thankful for the recent strengthening of a bond with his father, Thomas Lee, who lives in Columbus.
"To say the past year has been great would be an understatement," Tyson Lee said. "I kid Trace all of the time and tell him he is my role model. He is great to be around on a regular basis again."
The next major life decision most likely will belong to Trace. As graduation approaches, Trace Lee will have to decide where he will go to college.
"My advice to Trace is simple -- if you love (playing sports), do it (in college) and if you don't love it, don't," Tyson Lee said. "College is where it becomes a 12-month-out-of-the-year job. You have to love it. You have to be committed to the grind. You have to be able to prioritize and put your school work first because you are a student-athlete.
"Trace will have a major decision to make, too, involving which sport he loves more. Right now, he is very much in the moment, and whatever is going on that day is the thing he loves most."
Trace looks forward to his older brother's encouragement when it is time to sign his National Letter of Intent.
"He has had all of these experiences," Trace Lee said. "He played college ball at two schools. I know what he went through because I saw it. To be able to know he will be right here to encourage me and support me is really great. I know I can ask him anything about what is coming next."
The best news for Trace and Tyson Lee is they will be able to ask those critical questions in person and not through cyberspace.
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter
1. Pickle takes over as New Hope football coach HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
2. Close games have helped New Hope girls find focus HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
3. MSU men hit unlucky 13 for second year in a row COLLEGE SPORTS
4. Rally helps send Ole Miss' Henderson out a winner COLLEGE SPORTS
5. Defense dominates as Ole Miss practices in pads COLLEGE SPORTS