University of Kansas

Next up for KU freshman All-American Mike Lee: High school prom

Mike Lee
Mike Lee KU Athletics

Mike Lee has his outfit picked out: white and pink tuxedo, along with matching sparkly shoes.

No, he doesn’t have a date, but that’s not going to keep him from attending his high school prom on April 29.

“It’s going to be a surprise,” he said.

And perhaps a first for Landry Walker High School in New Orleans.

Lee, who should be finishing his senior year of high school now, instead opted to come to Kansas a year early to play football. Which all leads to this: Landry Walker will have a prom attendee who already has earned freshman All-American honors … in college.

“I was thinking it was weird,” Lee said, “but since I didn’t go to my prom and I didn’t (go to graduation), I was like, ‘Well, why don’t I just go to my prom? See if I can?’ 

The KU safety certainly accomplished quite a bit for someone who hasn’t completed all the rites that come with being a high school senior. He started KU’s last eight games a season ago, finishing second on the team with 77 tackles after learning the playbook on the fly during fall practices.

“Really, I was just playing on my natural talent,” Lee said.

And that’s the reason there’s even greater hope for his sophomore season.

KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen likes to say there are threes phases that each defensive player goes through: 1. He learns what his assignment is on paper, figuring out where to line up and who to look at; 2. He gets repetitions and becomes more comfortable with those assignments; 3. He gets to a point where all that becomes second nature, with the game slowing down so that more attention can be paid to opponent tendencies.

Bowen says Lee has yet to make it to Step 3.

“It’s where the veteran guys get to where they kind of know what’s happening before it happens,” Bowen said. “He needs to continue to get to that level.”

Lee admits the same. Last year, he could lean on team captain Fish Smithson, KU’s other starting safety who knew opposing offenses as well as anyone.

“Some plays, I really didn’t know what I was doing,” Lee said. “He was like, ‘Do this. Do that.’ I was like, ‘OK.’ 

Quickly, Lee has become the veteran of the secondary. Smithson has graduated, along with last season’s starting corners Brandon Stewart and Marnez Ogletree.

It’s led to Bowen repeating a phrase around Lee often at practices and in the film room: “Be like Fish.”

“He knew everything on the field,” Lee said. “That’s what I want to know.”

The potential is there for additional plays from Lee if he becomes more disciplined.

Bowen says Lee often is what he calls an “eye violator,” meaning he’ll become too focused on the wrong person during plays.

“He’s supposed to be looking here, but the sexy QB is always a little bit better to look at,” Bowen said. “He still wants to look in there a little too much, which creates problems at safety, especially in today’s game with the run-pass option.”

That was part of the problem last season in what Lee called his “worst game ever” — a 55-19 loss at Texas Tech on Sept. 29. Afterwards, he sent a text to Smithson apologizing for his play, saying he wouldn’t make the same mistakes again.

“That’s not me,” Lee said. “I just felt like it was my fault, giving up the touchdowns.”

Lee rebounded after that. He was KU’s defensive player of the week in two of the final nine games and later picked up the freshman All-American honors from Rivals.

It resulted in plenty of positive attention from other players back home.

“That made them look at me and Kansas more because of me doing that,” Lee said of becoming a freshman All-American. “They were like, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’”

Lee could potentially end up as one of the most important signees in KU history if he can help to keep current commitments.

KU’s 2018 recruiting class is ranked 12th nationally by Rivals, with four of the six pledges coming from Louisiana natives. That includes four-stars Corione Harris and Devonta Jason, who both attend Landry Walker.

Those commitments are non-binding, meaning each of those players could change their mind before Signing Day.

But perhaps that’ll be tougher if Lee talks to Harris and Jason in person. One chance will be May 15, as Lee plans to go home to walk across the stage for his high school graduation.

Another opportunity comes two weeks from now, when Lee should be easily found if he sticks to his pink-and-white plan.

Jesse Newell: 816-234-4759, @jessenewell