Determination, peanut butter fuel Buckeyes’ Lee
COLUMBUS (AP) — Fueled by a mix of confidence, determination, peanut butter and chocolate milk, Ohio State linebacker Darron Lee is right where he always knew he belonged — even if others weren’t so sure.
The former high school quarterback who refused to take no for an answer from Urban Meyer needed only two seasons and 35 pounds to develop into one of the best players on a national championship defense.
Playing alongside four- and five-star recruits such as defensive end Joey Bosa and safety Vonn Bell, Lee was one of the standouts of the Buckeyes’ title run last season. He was third on the team in tackles (81), second in tackles for loss (16.5) and sacks (7.5), and was defensive MVP of Ohio State’s 42-35 semifinal victory against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Lee said he will judge his progress this season not by tackles or sacks, but by how well talented sophomore Raekwon McMillan does taking over as the Buckeyes’ starting middle linebacker.
“If I’m going to be a leader I’ve got to make guys around me better,” he said. “That’s my job. That’s my duty. I owe it to those guys. I think that’s how my role is now.”
At New Albany High School, about 20 miles from Ohio State, Lee did it all. As a junior, he played quarterback, wide receiver and safety and returned kicks before concentrating on quarterback as a senior.
“Darron not only wanted to be the best for himself, he also expected and demanded the best out of his teammates,” New Albany coach Pat Samanich said.
Samanich saw a future for Lee as a dual-threat quarterback. So did Boston College. Duke and Illinois were also interested, but Lee wanted to be a Buckeye.
Problem was the Buckeyes did not want him — at least not at first.
“The most impressive thing about Darron is he came to camp looking for a scholarship offer from Ohio State,” said Meyer, who is entering his fourth season as Buckeyes’ coach. “We decided not to offer him yet. Told him to come back. Came back. I think we did it at least four times. And most kids move on and go to a smaller school. And this kid, said, ‘No, this is what I want. I want to play at Ohio State. I’m going to come back again and I’m going to show you.”’
The offer finally came, but with another challenge. Lee would be moved to linebacker.
“Getting here, that transition was pretty difficult because I wasn’t as big yet,” Lee said. “I didn’t really know what I was doing.”
Mastering the Xs and Os was easy for Lee compared to turning his 195-pound wide receiver’s body into one suited to play linebacker. During Lee’s redshirt freshman season, every meal was all he could eat.
Breakfast: A meat omelet with cheese, two cups of chocolate milk and maybe some pancakes.
Lunch: Lean meat, often chicken.
In between meals: Protein shakes.
Dinner: “‘Eat whatever is high calorie. I don’t care if it’s greasy or whatever,” Lee said was strength and conditioning coach Mickey Maroti’s order.
Then there was snack time, right before bed: Four mostly peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and three glasses of chocolate milk.
“I love chocolate milk and it tastes like a Reese’s (Peanut Butter) Cup when you combine them,” Lee said. “I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh! This is so good.’ But it’s also filling.”
Snack time wasn’t always fun.
“I enjoy it now, but beforehand, no I really didn’t,” Lee said. “I knew I had to have the snack if I was going to make weight the next day. But there were times I’d finish one and a half, two (sandwiches), and I’d be like, I’m done. But in the back of my mind I know I have to eat it to make weight or coach Mick’s going to be on my butt.”
Maintaining the weight isn’t a problem anymore for Lee, who comfortably checks in at 230.
“I’m eating more than I did last year,” he said.
That explains the two big Styrofoam takeout containers of Chinese food from Panda Express he was about to have for lunch on this day off from spring practice.
Even with his newfound stardom, Lee is still not the most recognizable member of his family in Columbus. That honor belongs to his mother, Candice Lee, who is a local television news anchor.
“I learned a lot from her,” Lee said. “She said if you ever speak to people, make sure you speak clearly so you can get your point across.”
Just like a leader should do.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP