Hard Work Pays Off As Darron Lee Finds Himself In Mix to Replace Ryan Shazier
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It's rare that the path to playing linebacker at Ohio State involves playing quarterback in high school. After all, there are much easier ways to become a linebacker at Ohio State, such as playing linebacker at least one other time before that, for instance.
That being said, it's not completely unheard of. It happened for Preston Harrison in the early 1990s, and briefly for Jermale Hines a few years ago. Both players played quarterback for their respective schools, though Hines was only ever recruited by Ohio State to play defense.
Now, that same barely-trampled path is being walked by somebody new, namely second-year player Darron Lee.
Lee, technically a sophomore, but hoping to be granted a medical redshirt following an injury early last season, surprised some people last week when he emerged as the first-team weakside linebacker on the first day of spring practice.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Not everybody was surprised, mind you, but Lee hadn't even been a linebacker for a whole 365 days yet, so a little bit of eye raising was to be expected.
What did he do to find himself with the first team to begin spring practice?
"There's not as many other guys," joked defensive coordinator Luke Fickell.
"No, we're going to play with a bunch of base people on the field and we're going to continue to compete. He did a great job in the last five or six weeks of the season as a scout guy. He's had a good winter. He's a guy that's put on 15-20 pounds and has a great upside."
Playing quarterback and safety in high school, Lee routinely made spectacular plays on both sides of the ball. Those plays, however, were never made at linebacker.
The transition to linebacker has not been an easy one, as evidenced by a tweet prior to last season in which Lee asked if anybody out there could teach him how to play linebacker.
Hard work, however, has a way of making the seemingly impossible remarkably possible, and that's what has put Lee in this position today.
Ohio State recruited him as an athlete, not knowing exactly where he would end up on the field. What they did know, however, was that they wanted to be the team to find out.
The Buckeyes are now in search of a linebacker to replace All-American Ryan Shazier, which is really too much to put on any one player's shoulders, let alone a guy who has yet to take a meaningful snap from scrimmage in an actual game.
Despite Lee's inexperience, Urban Meyer is already liking what he's seen from the young linebacker.
"Darron Lee is out there and was impressive with his triggers," Meyer said after the first day of spring practice.
"Those last three weeks of fall, his off-season, he's 225 I want to say, he's a legitimate 4.5, 4.4 guy, he's got all the skills. His negative is he used to play quarterback at New Albany, so we've just got to get him ready to go play."
That negative has been largely negated to this point, and it took a lot of work to get it there. It's going to take even more work, however, for Lee to remain where he is. But given how far he has come already, that doesn't sound like much of an issue for him.
It is important to keep in mind that there has only been one week of spring practice, and pads have yet to be employed. As the coaches keep saying, all we've seen to this point is players running around in their underwear.
"We kind of bite our tongue and hold our opinions until we put on some real pads and get these guys to run around," Fickell explained. "We're going to build their confidence and then let them play."
Combined with that confidence and freedom, the work that Darron Lee has put in to this point has found him in the very same spot that Ryan Shazier found himself two years ago.
The Buckeyes need their weakside linebacker to make plays, so what better candidate than one who has the speed of a safety, the mind of a quarterback, and now the body of a linebacker?
Seems like a good match all the way around, and all it took was a whole lot of hard work.
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