COLUMBIA — If this summer’s 7-on-7 sessions are any indication, Missouri’s latest commitment had better get used to more attention from defenses – and fast.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
He may seem unimposing, at about 5-feet-10 and 170 pounds, but West Florida Tech receiver Lawrence Lee – a former Tennessee commitment who became the Tigers’ 15th verbal commitment for the Class of 2014 on Monday night – has seen plenty of double coverage this summer, according to his high school coach, Harry Lees.
“This year, based on what we’ve seen in 7-on-7, we can put him anywhere and they’re going to put at least two guys on him,” said Lees, who has had four players from his Pensacola-area school commit to the Tigers during the past year. “Even the powerhouse teams in our area are trying to stop him.”
The funny thing to Lees, whose team went 10-1 last season in Florida 5A (the state’s biggest classification), is that more often than not, the extra attention doesn’t even matter.
“We’ve thrown in double coverage to Lawrence and he caught it anyway,” Lees said. “You’re really gonna have to commit more than one guy, and even then that might not be enough.”
Teams have certainly had a hard enough time stopping Lee the past two seasons. Here’s the highlight film of his junior season, when he caught 51 passes for 1,011 yards and 11 touchdowns and also had 300 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Lee posted comparable numbers as a sophomore, when he caught 52 passes for 1,134 yards and 17 touchdowns.
His production makes sense once you glance at his measurables. Lee, who is listed as a -four-star prospect by ESPN and a three-star prospect by Rivals, Scout and 247Sports, said he ran a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash this summer and has also posted a time of 4.09 in the shuttle, a one-rep max of 275 on the bench press, a max of 265 in the hang clean and a vertical leap of 38 inches.
“He’s not a skinny kid, he can definitely put on some weight,” Lees said. “I’d say he’d look good at 185 or so. He can really thicken up a bit and be pretty productive.”
Though Lees said he plans on playing his star receiver at safety this year to further utilize his talents, Lee will mainly play slot receiver at Missouri, where receivers coach Pat Washington and offensive coordinator Josh Henson sold him on the opportunity to play early in a receiver-friendly offense.
“They run the spread just like my high school team, so I wouldn’t have to adjust much,” Lee said. “And they have a senior slot receiver that will be gone next year so I’ll have a good opportunity to earn significant playing time.”
Lee, who also had scholarship offers from Tennessee, South Florida, Southern Mississippi, Memphis and Florida International, is just one of two 2014 Missouri commits who have offers from Southeastern Conference schools, with the other being Nashville-area offensive lineman Paul Adams.
Lee originally committed to Tennessee in April, but backed out of that commitment in June after he visited the campus. Lees said that for whatever reason, his receiver simply “didn’t feel comfortable there.”
“It was a mutual thing,” Lee said. "A lot of people were saying I was scared to compete, but this is NCAA football, you have to compete anywhere you go. I thought that was kind of crazy. I deal with fighting for my position every day in high school. Going to a bigger stage won’t change anything.”
The Vols currently have commitments from three receivers, including a pair of four-star prospects (according to Rivals’ rankings) who committed in July, nearly a month after Lee decommitted.
“Coach Washington was telling me this a week or two ago,” Lee said. “Every place has facilities, every place has a nice weight room, every place has a team room. It’s all about the people. That stuck with me. You have to find and get with the school that has the right people that fit with you.”
Over the past month, Lee grew increasingly comfortable that for him, Missouri was that place. He hasn’t had an opportunity to visit the campus yet, but his relationship with former West Florida Tech teammate Nate Crawford – a true freshman defensive tackle who arrived on Missouri’s campus this summer – played a big role in his decision.
“I’m really big on Nate,” Lee said. “By me not getting able to get down there, he was my tour guide, just telling me how good everything is, giving me the 4-1-1 about the university. We’re majoring in the same thing, too – business – so he’s been telling me about the schoolwork and the coaches. Nate is the man.”
Lee is the fourth player from his Pensacola high school to commit to the Tigers over the past year, joining Crawford, ’13 kicker Luke Jackson and ‘14 defensive end Rocel McWilliams.
“Lawrence feels comfortable with those guys, and Nate giving a good report had something to do with it,” Lees said. “Nate has had nothing but good things to say about Missouri since he got there.”
Lee also has a high opinion of Washington, who will coach him at Mizzou.
“He’s not one of those yell at you types,” Lee said. “He’s a real cool, laid-back guy. From day one, he’s been keeping it real with me.”
It’s just one of the reasons Lee said his commitment to Missouri will stick. He is the third receiver commitment the Tigers have landed in their 2014 recruiting class, joining Thomas Richard of Nashville and Darnell Green-Beckham of Springfield.
“I’m pretty locked in,” Lee said. “With the opportunity to make an impact in this wide receiver corps and to be coached by Pat Washington, I don’t think this is something I want to pass up.”