People can't stop talking about Marqise Lee
NOV 01, 2012 6:20p ET
He's popular these days. A lot of people want to talk to him.
As he talks underneath the shaded trees just overlooking Cromwell Field, passersby walk through. Many stop to say their hellos to Lee, including women's basketball coach and former Lakers guard Michael Cooper. However, the majority of the people are athletes heading towards Heritage.
Lee acknowledges each one of them while continuing his present conversation. He does so effortlessly, as if he has the uncanny ability to carry on multiple conversations at once.
He continues. Now deep in conversation, a man and a woman appear from around the corner of the building. Neither of them are USC athletes.
"Marqise!" the guy yells out almost in shock to be standing a mere 10 feet from Lee. "You're my favorite player."
Lee grins. He issues a soft wave, as he sends back a "thank you."
The guy, smiling from ear to ear, throws up what appears to be the peace sign but around these parts is USC lingo for "Fight On" or "Victory" or some combination of the two.
Lee has become a lot of people's favorite player in his short time on the USC campus. He rivals Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas and West Virginia's Tavon Austin as one of the most electrifying players in college football.
This isn't the first time Lee's been approached by an admirer in love with what he can do on the football field and it certainly won't be the last, but he takes it in stride. A humble star.
The country is still buzzing from what he did against Arizona. He's just days removed from a 469 all-purpose yard performance in the desert, which is the second-highest total in NCAA history. He had 345 receiving yards which was a Pac-12 record.
USC head coach Lane Kiffin called it "one of the greatest games in the history of college football."
On a national radio show, Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez joked the only way his team could stop Lee was to tire him out.
While everyone marvels at the hundreds of yards Lee picked up at Arizona, all he could think about was the two that he didn't get.
On fourth down and two, Kiffin elected to go for it. He wanted to put the ball in Lee's hands and called a reverse. Lee was stopped short.
"Me being the player I'm capable of being, a true player, would have made that two yards possible," Lee said.
And then there was the game's final play. A Hail Mary in his direction. He couldn't get to it as time expired and the Trojans were handed loss number two on the season.
Lee was face down on the turf with his helmet in his hands. He certainly left it all out on the field, but it wasn't enough. He wanted to make that catch. He needed to. There was validity in the ball meeting his hands.
"If they're going to call you one of the greatest at the school, then that's the play for you to make," Lee said. "That's when you become called great. In that case, I felt like 'OK, this is what I'm supposed to do.'
"I don't care if it's a Hail Mary pass and it's 50-50. To me, it's 100 percent. I'm supposed to catch it."
Following the game last Saturday, Lee was left with a bunch of records to his name, unamused and unfulfilled.
"Yeah, 345, people says that's amazing and to me it's just a number to tell you the truth," Lee said. "It's 345 with an L (loss) and it's not something I like."
The player who was overlooked and a late addition to the Biletnikoff Watch List at the start of the season for the nation's best wide receiver has generated a buzz, regardless the level of his amusement. On a team with Robert Woods and preseason Heisman front-runner Matt Barkley, it's Lee who's name is now being mentioned as a player who could make a trip to New York in December for the Heisman Trophy presentation.
"It's a good thing to be brought up in that conversation, actually," Lee said. "I'm not going to shoot it down. I'm happy I'm coming into the conversation but then again I'm not going to say I'm satisfied.
"I feel as if I got a lot more things to work on before I actually deserve it."
Lee never had any dreams of winning the Heisman Trophy or a Biletnikoff Award or any other prestigious honor associated with college football. He barely wanted to play football.
He transferred to Serra High School from Morningside High School following his freshman year and played football, basketball, and ran track.
Basketball was and continues to be his first love. He grew up admiring Michael Jordan, although he acknowledges he loves Lebron James' game. He wanted to hoop, and had to be coaxed into playing football as a sophomore at Serra.
The majority of his sophomore season was spent on JV. As a junior he began to get noticed by colleges as a safety. On a star-studded team that went 15-0 and won a state championship, Lee was no higher than sixth on the depth chart at wide receiver.
He had just three receptions that season on a loaded wide receiving corp that featured current USC Trojans George Farmer and Robert Woods. Also on that team was Colorado wide receiver Paul Richardson.
After the graduation of Woods and Richardson, Lee played both ways and filled in at wide receiver opposite Farmer. Lee had a breakout year as a wide receiver with 23 touchdown receptions and averaged nearly 25 yards a catch as a senior.
Still, he was projected to be a safety at the next level.
No one expected a year later that Kiffin would declare that Lee would become the best wide receiver to put on a USC uniform.
Not even Lee, who acknowledges he never thought he would play football at the college level. His only dream in life was simply to make it to college.
As he and his teammates prepare to host Oregon on Saturday at the Coliseum, he still feels like he has a lot to prove. He knew after a season of earning freshman All-American honors, he would be a target for conversations.
One week at a time he's tried to improve on last year's output.
Eight games into this season, he's already passed his total number of receptions from his freshman year. He's one touchdown shy of the 11 touchdown catches he had last season and 14 yards shy of last year's total.
"The outcome of it is amazing," Lee said. "The fact that people (are) talking about me is amazing."
The people doing the talking say the same thing about him.
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