He may have bulldozed Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds into the artificial turf at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore over the weekend, but Darron Lee said Monday he’s still not big enough to take on Mom.
In Ohio State’s 34-17 victory over Navy on the Baltimore Ravens’ field, Lee – a redshirt freshman linebacker starting his first college game – picked up a Navy fumble a couple of minutes into the third quarter and returned it 61 yards for a touchdown that finally put the Bucks ahead, 13-7.
Navy retook the lead 14-13 and had the ball again in OSU territory with about seven minutes left in the period when Lee leveled Reynolds for a 2-yard loss. A video clip of the body-slamming tackle has since become a hit on YouTube.
His game was stellar enough that coach Urban Myer and his assistants named Lee one of their “Champions” of the game.
So after all that, Lee was asked if finally – at least for Saturday night – had he eclipsed his mother as a celebrity around Columbus?
Candice Lee is the popular news anchor for WCMH, Ch.4, the NBC affiliate in Columbus. In her past, she also spent seven years in the United States Navy as a journalist and public relations specialist, travelling with the Secretary of Navy and working with the White House to cover the 50th anniversary of World War II.
So Saturday night, who drew top billing, Mother or Son?
“Probably still her,” Lee said laughing. “I heard she got a little upset (Saturday) because someone said my name wrong.”
He was told that the CBS broadcasters for the game – especially Verne Lundquist – had mispronounced his name repeatedly in the first half.
“They pronounced it Da-Ron ,” he was told.
But as everyone who follows social media soon witnessed, Mom took care of it. She drew a bead on the CBS broadcasters the way her boy had zeroed in on Reynolds. All it took was one tweet from her:
“@CBSSportsNet #43 for ohio state..his name is Darron (Darren, like the Darren in bewitched) tell Verne they r messing with my sons name.”
And sure enough, it wasn’t long before the CBS guys began pronouncing the name correctly. And that was only fitting because Saturday was the day Lee finally made a name for himself on the college football field.
“He did grade a Champion,” Meyer said Monday. “He’s a guy that is a product of the offseason program … and all the different ways we try to develop some toughness around here … He’s been practicing like that since the spring – (when) he kind of came out of nowhere. (We) didn’t expect that in spring practice.”
At New Albany High School outside Columbus, Lee had been a starting quarterback and a cornerback. At 6-foot-2 and 197 pounds, he was seen as a “tweener,” by many schools. Boston College was interested in him as a quarterback. Arizona State, among others, saw him as a defensive back and Ohio State didn’t make an offer until late – the summer before his senior season.
Although he had grown up in Chattanooga, Tenn. – where his mom worked at the local CBS affiliate – Lee claims he already was enamored with the Buckeyes.
“I’ve been loving Ohio State since I was down in Tennessee,” he said. “First it was the rivalry game … I hated that team up North … I watched in 2005 and then in 2006 I was at a state championship game for another high school in Tennessee – but I didn’t watch any of the game. I was too busy on my phone checking the (OSU) score. I was probably refreshing every 45 seconds.
“And as a kid I played video games … I always wanted to be Ted Ginn. He was so fast. He always took it to the house. I loved watching him.”
Candice is a single parent, and in 2007, she brought her son to Columbus when she took the job at WCMH.
When OSU offered him a scholarship, Lee – who said he had gotten wind that BC would be making a coaching change – accepted even though it meant he would play somewhere on defense and no longer be a quarterback.
“I saw the bigger picture — football within and life after,” he said. “The coaches here care and after football there are so many opportunities – job opportunities.”
In that same recruiting class, OSU had signed two blue-chip linebackers in Trey Johnson and Mike Mitchell. Many considered Lee “a project,” but he did not:
“It didn’t matter to me a how-many-star recruit you are. I don’t care about that. I’m competitor. Coach Meyer recruited me because he knew I was competitive.”
Last year – after playing just six plays in two games, San Diego State and Florida A&M – he was injured and ended up taking a red-shirt season.
He said coaches and teammates urged him to “get bigger” and he has. He said he’s gained 40 pounds since coming to Ohio State.
Mitchell transferred after last season, Johnson has battled injuries and Lee stepped forward in the spring. He did the same Saturday when he started at outside linebacker,
Explaining his touchdown – which was the first he had scored since a TD pass against Trotwood-Madison in the 2012 state playoffs – he credited Buckeye defensive lineman Joey Bosa:
“Well, I saw Joey shed a block and then attack the quarterback … I was lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time. The ball rolled over to me, I picked it up and took off.”
After the game, his mom posted a picture on her Facebook page of herself and her son, arm and arm, in the stadium. A University of Maryland grad who grew up in nearby Washington D.C., she wore a red Go Bucks shirt, a pair of buckeye necklaces and she summed up her trip back home with this message:
“My weekend – family, friends, a touchdown, seven tackles, a sack, crab cakes, Baltimore harbor … Buckeye Win!”
She also has changed her Facebook cover photo. It now features her son in a silvery-gray helmet, wearing his scarlet No. 43 jersey and standing with a super hero pose in a gauzy mist.
In a flip flop of top billing, she now identifies herself as Darron Lee’s mom.