Elijah Lee should have been nervous.
It was the opening game of Kansas State’s 2014 season, and he was a freshman. He was not accustomed to the roar of a sellout crowd. He did not know the intricacies of the Wildcats’ defense. And he did not know what to expect from the opposing team when coaches sent him in on an early third-and-long.
But Lee blocked that all out and went about his business, making a sack on his inaugural play — the perfect start to his college career. He went on to make 3 1/2 more sacks, shining all season as a pass-rush specialist. He never showed nerves or hesitation.
Not bad for a freshman. Still, when you ask Lee to grade his first season ...
“It was probably about a 7 of 8 on a scale of 1 to 10,” Lee said. “I could have done a lot of things better. I don’t want to dwell on the success I had, because this is a new year and I have many more years to come. I want to get better each year.”
Lee is already eying bigger accomplishments as a sophomore. Lee, a Blue Springs native, is expected to make the move from third-down specialist to every-down linebacker.
K-State defensive coordinator Tom Hayes targeted Lee for the promotion, because he thinks he has an impressive mixture of speed, power and football knowledge.
“He fits what we want to do at linebacker,” Hayes said. “Plus, he has that attitude where he is also pushing to get better. As a coach, you love players like that.”
Lee thinks he is ready for the promotion.
It won’t be easy filling in for Dakorey Johnson and Jonathan Truman, starting linebackers a year ago, but he has been working tirelessly to make a smooth transition. His efforts paid off during K-State’s spring game, when he made one big play after another.
“I think I have grown a lot,” Lee said. “When I first came into camp, I didn’t know where to line up or what I was doing. Now I am in the playbook and in the film and I know what I am doing.”
Some college football players lose intensity when they find early success. Not Lee.
He says he arrived at K-State with something to prove. In high school, he convinced himself he was not a sought-after recruit. He felt slighted when coaches and media praised other players, including fellow Blue Springs and K-State teammates Kaleb Prewett and Dalvin Warmack.
Less was expected of him, he said, so he will also strive to achieve more.
“I was the last person anyone thought of,” Lee said. “That kind of motivated me to be better and to try to get better just so I could prove myself. I take that in every day. It never leaves my mind.”
That much has been obvious since his first game.