Lee’s progress sparks emotion at PSU
UNIVERSITY PARK — There are days when linebacker Sean Lee wants to jump out of his skin. Sitting out for more than a year has made the Penn State senior captain from Upper St. Clair High School antsy.
“He’s anxious,” Penn State coach Joe Paterno said Thursday, confirming the obvious.
Lee is expected to be at full strength when the 2009 college football season rolls around, having recovered from surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, suffered during spring workouts prior to the 2008 season.
But having been held back during spring practices this year hasn’t been easy on Lee. Paterno forbid Lee to wear pads as a precautionary measure, maintaining there was no need to rush Lee’s progress.
In the interim, Lee has shown the ability to influence younger players. He’s been known to offer opinions to the coaching staff and players on certain defensive plays and schemes.
“Every time I turned around, I had to be careful,” Paterno said, speaking to reporters at a Penn State football fantasy camp. “He might have been right up my you-know-what. But, really, he’s a heck of a football player.”
Lee, a two-time Big Ten defensive player of the week in 2007, earned second-team all-conference honors that same year in a league that featured two of the three finalists for the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker. His 138 tackles were No. 5 on the school’s single-season list and would have made him the leading returning tackler for the Nittany Lions last season.
More than a year later, Lee is eager for contact. He sat out Penn State’s annual Blue-White spring game April 25 but says he is on schedule to return to the lineup in time for the Sept. 5 opener against Akron.
“Just to have him back with healthy knees and everything, he’s looking very well with these workouts that we’ve had,” senior quarterback Daryll Clark said. “I just can’t wait to see him in pads — other than in a photo shoot or something like that — actually going against another team. It’s going to be good for him to come back.”
Lee, upbeat and looking fit, masked his emotions well yesterday, but it was easy to see the excitement is building.
“Whenever you look at the magazines or anything college football at the beginning of the season, I get hyped up, worked up, adrenaline starts pumping,” he said. “You can kind of put your emotions onto these workouts and go full-go, nonstop right now and know you’re getting ready for the season.”
And Lee, who is working at both inside and outside linebacker, wants there to be no doubt that he is preparing with a great degree of precision and patience to return to his all-conference form.
“I feel the summer work is the toughest,” he said. “But come August, if you’re doing it right, you’re completely, physically ready to go.”
Paterno, meanwhile, said Lee’s overall presence might be as impressive as any he’s experienced in his Hall of Fame tenure.
“Sean’s a natural leader. So is Darryl,” Paterno said of his current team captains. “They want to lead, want to be involved in it. They don’t do it by talk. They go out there, lead the pack. You get a couple of guys that are tired, some days they don’t want to do it, you go after them. That’s what you gotta have.”
Paterno doesn’t always mention either player by name, but you can guess he’s got their names on his mind when he launches into what some refer to as coachspeak.
Still, Lee, for one, commands that respect, even from a legendary coach, whose career victories total tops the pack.
“I’m excited,” Paterno said of the upcoming season, one that will see him return to the sidelines after being forced to coach from the press box at times last year. Off-season hip-replacement surgery hopefully solved that.
“I’m not the kind of guy that likes to say, ‘Oh, we’re going to do this, we’re going to do that. You gotta do it,” Paterno said. “But I think we have some kids that want to be a good football team.”