Elijah Lee is leading the Wildcats defense by example
NOVEMBER 2016 – When Elijah Lee arrived at Kansas State as a freshman two seasons ago, his goal was to just fit in. It’s amazing how leading the team in tackles can help a guy feel like he belongs.
“When I first got here I wasn’t sure of my abilities,” Lee said. “But after a hard summer and some big gains in the weight room, I gained more and more conference. I believe I have been put in this position for a reason. It’s my time.”
Through seven games in the 2016 season, Lee has 58 tackles, including four for loss. That’s more than eight tackles per game. The next highest total on the team is 36. That means that he makes an average of three more stops than anybody else on the team, each time the team takes the field.
“I think he’s playing well,” coach Bill Snyder said. “Just like we’ve said so many times, it’s (due to) more and more experience, both on the practice field and on the game field. He’s mentally into it. Consequently, because of the experience, he’s able to process the information and make decisions a lot quicker than he did a year ago.”
Elijah Lee, a junior linebacker from Blue Springs, is a two-time Buck Buchanan Memorial Award recipient, given to the best lineman or linebacker in the top two high school classes in Kansas or Missouri high school football in the Kansas City area. He was only the second two-time winner.
He was selected as the Missouri Football Coaches’ Association Class 6 Defensive Player of the Year, and was a unanimous pick for the MFCA All-State squad in 2013. He was named first-team all-state by the Missouri media in 2013 and to the USA Today/American Family Insurance All-USA Missouri Team.
He was rated the 39th-best outside linebacker nationally by Scout.com and 41st by Rivals.com as a senior. As a Kansas State junior, he is rated the No. 8 outside linebacker for the NFL 2018 draft.
He’s developed steadily in his three seasons. He played in all 13 games as a freshman and set a school record for sacks for a true freshman with 4.5. As a sophomore, he led Kansas State with 80 tackles and was named second-team All-Big 12 honors from the league’s coaches. He became K-State’s first underclassman linebacker to earn first- or second-team All-Big 12 honors since College Football Hall of Famer Mark Simoneau in 1998.
He was also the first Wildcat underclassman to lead the team in tackles since 2008. He finished second on the team with 7.5 tackles for loss and third with 5.0 sacks. And just to make sure no one thinks he just stuffs the run, he recorded three interceptions, the most by a K-State linebacker since 2002.
He’s one of the leaders—not just statistically—on the K-State defense, which is ranked second in the Big 12 in total defense. Besides the number of tackles, he is inspiring his teammates.
“He’s a phenomenal linebacker,” fellow linebacker Charmeachealle Moore said. “When he’s beside me I know he’s got my back like I’ve got his back. We both learn from each other in situations we go through.”
Jordan Willis, another defensive star out of Rockhurst High, is thrilled his former rival is succeeding as a teammate. “To see him thriving, I’m happy to see him doing the things he’s doing,” Willis said.
Snyder, who is well-known for soft-selling his players’ talent, says Elijah Lee has developed into a leader.
“The more he has gained the experience that has allowed him to have the comfort level on the field, he’s able to expand his leadership capabilities and have a positive influence on his teammates,” Snyder said.
Big plays at big times will go far to establish a player as a leader. Kansas State’s Big 12 home opener against Texas Tech was a back-and-forth affair. After K-State scored a touchdown early in the fourth quarter to take a 38-31 lead, Tech faced a third-and-1 at its 34-yard line. While most of the K-State defense seemed to be waiting for the defensive call to come in from the sideline, Lee stopped Red Raiders running back Demarcus Felton for no gain and Tech punted. The Wildcats responded with a field goal to make it a two-score lead.
“They were in a hurry-up so we just had to be ready to go,” Willis said of Lee’s stop. “I’m glad he made that play, because most of the defense was standing up waiting for the call.”
Two weeks later, against Texas, Lee again stepped up big. He led the team with seven tackles and helped the Wildcats defense hold on after two second-half turnovers that allowed the Longhorns to start drives deep in K-State territory.
“They didn’t have good field position whatsoever, but they did a heck of a job down there,” Snyder said. “It seemed that every time they (the Longhorns) started, they started at midfield. They didn’t have very far to go—and it was four downs—but we played well.”
Elijah Lee said the defense was just doing its job.
“We stepped up in the moment,” Lee said. “Those quick turnarounds, when the offense has a turnover, we have their backs.”
Elijah Lee takes praise from teammates and coaches in stride, including the interest from NFL scouts.
“It (the play against Tech) was an opportunity for me to step up big when my teammates needed me,” he said. “I really like it when the situation falls into my hands. I’m confident that I can make the play.
“I just try to do what I can. I just try to fly around and not really worry about numbers (of tackles). You’re just flying around having fun with your brothers. At the end of the day, the game speaks for itself. Whatever stats I have, that’s just what’s on the paper.
“Reaching the NFL is every kid’s dream. It’s something you think about. There isn’t a day that goes by that you don’t see those guys doing what they love and making a lot of money doing it. That’s my aspiration, to one day be an NFL player.”
Article by David Smale
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