May 11, 2013 11:59:21 PM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Tyson Lee was sitting in a meeting room at the NFL's St. Louis Rams evaluating a draft prospect when he couldn't prevent an ugly feeling from entering his mind.
"We were turning this kid's draft card over in our board because of his character issues and I just kept thinking, 'OK, if we're not drafting him, we can't be the only ones thinking this right?' " Lee said. "I just kept thinking after that meeting one question: What's going to happen to that young person?"
That question and Lee's desire to help people before it's too late led the former Mississippi State University quarterback to come home. Two weeks ago, Lee agreed to leave his scouting assistant position with the Rams for a full-time position with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at MSU.
"I was on this path to make it up the ladder in professional football with an excellent organization and (to be) around the game I loved, and just knew I was on the wrong path for me," Lee said. "That's when you stop and re-evaluate things and ask if this is God's plan for me."
In explaining his decision, Lee said he struggled to deal with the fact many of the prospects he evaluated as a scouting assistant had criminal backgrounds.
"I know for a fact we must have ended the dreams and futures of lots of young men in this world because we made the organization's best decision to not bring him in," Lee said. "I couldn't stop thinking, 'If that person doesn't have football, what's he going to do with his life?' I kept thinking when I'd get home, 'Couldn't somebody have helped him get back on the right track before this point in his life?' "
Those thoughts forced Lee to give up the traveling, scouting, and opportunity he enjoyed not because he fell out of love with football or the life of a scout. He gave it up to pursue what he feels are more critical and responsible goals.
"I loved everything about the job, the city of St. Louis, and the Rams organization," Lee said. "Something was just missing in my life. I don't know what I'll be five or 10 years, but this just feels like the perfect fit for me."
In announcing his departure from the Rams on his blog page, Lee wrote a long essay detailing his reasons. He highlighted his feeling that as a Christian and a responsible human that he was being called to take a different direction. Family members, friends, and MSU personnel re-tweeted the blog post once it hit Facebook.
Lee's decision to leave the Rams actually started last summer when he had lunch with Bill Buckley, the president of MSU's FCA chapter. Two days after the 2013 NFL draft last month, Lee officially ended his lifelong connection with football.
"I was telling him what I wasn't enjoying about the job and it's not just about professional sports, it's about society and life," Lee said. "We draft, sign, and scout players with such horrible backgrounds including no father, no parents, no home life, and I wasn't doing anything to help a majority of those people."
Buckley said he remembers the lunch, but he said he doesn't remember thinking Lee was considering a professional change.
"I've always told Tyson we'd love to have him in the FCA, and I love Tyson and the person he is like he's one of my sons," Buckley said. "But it's not just about Tyson. It's about the Lord and what he is trying to accomplish for others."
Lee started 20 games at quarterback in two seasons at MSU. He completed 58.8 percent of his passes from 2008-09 and threw 11 touchdowns and 2,963 yards. His leadership and presence helped him transition from Sylvester Croom's coaching staff to new coach Dan Mullen's staff.
Mullen often would praise Lee's on-the-field leadership skills in his weekly media conference by saying, "Tyson will be great anything he chooses to do because of who he is, and, who knows, Tyson could make a great high school principal one day."
"I've heard when I left that people, including my parents, were surprised I wanted to be involved with NFL life," Lee said. "It was a great experience, and seeing what I was involved with at the Rams can really believe it adds to my ability to speak to the current and future athletes at MSU."
Lee was the first football student-athlete in the history of Itawamba Community College to earn academic All-America and first-team All-America recognition in the same season. Lee played for Jeff Terrill, who is now the coach at Starkville Academy, and finished his career with 4,432 yards passing, leading ICC to a 14-4 record as a starter. Lee already was seen as a local hero after helping lead Columbus High School into the second round of the state playoffs in his senior season in 2005. He was named MVP in Class 5A, Region 1 following the season.
After not being drafted or signed as a free agent following his two years at MSU, Lee spent a year in graduate school at MSU and went through pro day workouts, throwing to Bulldogs receivers. He was at the workouts when a NFL scout approached him with an unusual proposal. Taylor Morton, who at the time was a scout for the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, asked him if he would be interested in a scouting position in professional football. Even though it was unexpected, Lee jumped at the chance.
"I didn't think I'd really ever thought about scouting or becoming a general manager, but I thought I could keep trying to be seen or have a longer career in football this way," Lee said. "Turns out I loved doing my job immediately and felt like it was fulfilling for me professional."
Morton and his bosses were the same people Lee had to tell he was leaving to return to his alma mater.
"I've heard nothing but support from the people back home at MSU and Columbus that I'll be coming back, and I'm excited to get started full time with the FCA," Lee said. "One of the hardest things I've ever done in my life is tell the Rams I was leaving."
After being a volunteer with FCA when he was in graduate school at MSU, Lee's new duties haven't been determined, but Buckley said Lee likely will be the organization's figure for the MSU football team.
"I want to affect that student-athlete who hasn't had the best situation in his life, that athlete that needs guidance and maybe is in search of something to complete them as a person," Lee said. "I just want to help in any way I can, and know I can in this position right now."
Lee's ultimate goal with FCA at MSU is to help individuals "not have that card turned over" when their athletic careers end.
"I never really thought Tyson would be accepting the position with us at the FCA, but we are sure excited to have him, and he has said he's looking forward to having the opportunity full time," Buckley said. "I'm hard pressed to find a person more recognized for who they are and what they accomplished as an athlete than Tyson Lee."