Natural Born Lee-der

Aug. 4, 2013

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

Vad Lee hasn’t changed much, if at all, but he might seem different to those who don’t know any better. His leadership skills are innate; it’s just that now they’re being seen and heard more frequently and loudly.

Georgia Tech’s redshirt sophomore quarterback is more comfortable, and this has been obvious through backdating beyond the first three days of “fall” camp. No offense intended toward predecessor Tevin Washington, but Lee doesn’t have to worry as much about pecking order now that Washington graduated.

Lee still has to fight off Justin Thomas for playing time, yet there is little doubt that a young man born to lead has taken that yoke with the benefit of a new roster dynamic. Skill may push him into his position. Time has thrust him into his role.

“I’m not doing anything different, but I have more space and I don’t have to look over my shoulder every time I say something,” he said Saturday.

It doesn’t take much to see what Lee is talking about.

You can see it if you follow him on Twitter, you can hear it in his voice, you can sense it in his work ethic. The second-hand stories about him speak volumes.

He’s more persuasive.

Lee is in at least one way a natural. It’s not that he bugs wide receiver Darren Waller, but, well, maybe he bugs Darren Waller. In a good way. Well, mostly good. Washington didn’t foul up Waller’s sleep patterns.

Neither Washington nor Joshua Nesbitt were rah-rah guys at quarterback before Lee, although this is not to say that they did not boost their teammates or get emotional. Lee, however, is like Joel Osteen as a motivator. Hint: use a search engine if you’re not sure about that.

“He’s a vocal leader. He’s somebody who leads in different ways,” Waller said. “If we’re struggling in practice, he’ll get everybody motivated. He’s a great guy to be around. He’s a little more outgoing than Tevin. That wasn’t his style.

“Vad embraces light and the attention that he gets, and he does well with it. During the summer, whenever I had free time on my hands and I wanted to go lay down and watch movies, ‘Bzzzzzzzzz,’ my phone would go off and it’s Vad wanting to go throw or do extra work in the weight room.”

Lee is not one of the 18 seniors on Tech’s roster, nor one of the 15 returning starters. There is about him, a certain aura that is rare.

He embraces light!

Having come from Durham, N.C., with an outsized backpack of fan expectation since the day he committed to join the Jackets, time will tell if that was deserved. The cross purposes of the way media covers recruiting and the way fans ache for forward thoughts to latch onto leave him with a high bar to leap.

Lee shows no signs of backing away from that.

He’s spiritual (on his feed, you’ll see plenty of references, in this order, to faith, family and football). He’s optimistic. He relishes the idea of lifting others.

Shoot, if you go back in that Twitter file you’ll see that he relishes lifting weights and encouraging his teammates to join him.

“I like to talk. I like to encourage people,” Lee said. “I don’t too much get on people, that’s not my style; it’s more positive encouragement. When I see something that I like that I think can help us, I’ll let them know.

“With the offensive line, I just make sure everybody knows I got their back. It’s just exciting to be able to do that, really for the first time.”

Crazy as this might first read, Lee appears to have landed on his pulpit as if it were a calling. This is a fit that is hard to describe.

Being a quarterback affords opportunities and/or obligations – depending on the lens the benefactor chooses to view. Some take them as a burden (I’m thinking of my time spent covering former Falcons QB/80 grit sandpaper Chris Chandler).

Others embrace them as a privilege (Lee, Lee, Lee).

“A quarterback is actually like another coach who is playing,” Vad said. “I take that with pride. I may want to coach one day.”

There’s a multiplier at work here. Lee does more than talk the talk. He walks it, too, and head coach Paul Johnson notices. The boss wants to be careful not to supplement the expectations Lee already faces.

Yet he’s not going to short sheet a guy he and his staff worked so hard to recruit only to see him earn credit even before substantial on-field validation (OK, the North Carolina game counts).

“He’s got leadership characteristics. He carries himself very well,” Johnson said. “I think that he’s got those characteristics, and I think [teammates] also see that he’s a hard worker. Kids tend to respect guys who work hard, and practice hard and he does that.”

Sign Waller up for the fan club.

“I’ve become a better student of the game and at watching film because of Vad by putting more into my everyday grind,” the wide receiver said. “He’s one of the hardest workers on the team. He deserves all the attention he gets.”

At the risk of multiplying the hype/expectation that Lee carries, I continue to be impressed. In the interest of transparency, I want to let it be known that nobody should be surprised if Thomas plays meaningful minutes as a redshirt freshman, not just garbage time. Isn’t that one of the marks of an improving team, a resurgent program? That’s competition. Comments to stingdaily@gmail.com.

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