The University of Southern California is 2,661 miles from Burtonsville, Maryland; the hometown of USC linebacker, Shane Lee. For most, 2,000 plus miles is enough to steer clear of creating any sudden change. The opposite is true however for the current Trojan captain. Shane Lee – creating an identity outside of his comfort zone.
Starting at the age of seven, Lee fell in love with the game we all know him for today – football. He played center on his flag football team just outside of the nation’s capital in Washington D.C., but Lee wasn’t satisfied with simply ripping the flag off of an opposing player’s belt.
“The first day or two of practice, I told my parents ‘I don’t want to play flag, I want to play tackle football.’” Lee recalled in a recent interview.
From that moment forward, the Maryland native knew he was destined to be an athlete.
What might surprise you, however, Shane wasn’t solely focused on football. The well-rounded athlete started playing tee-ball and soccer before growing up and loving lacrosse and basketball. “It was really just about enjoying and learning,” Lee said. “When the winter time would hit, I played indoor football, I was on three basketball teams, an indoor football team, and lacrosse season was coming up in the spring,” Lee recalled. “Different tournaments for basketball, a football game here and there, we’d be going from game to game and practice to practice, it was a lot.”
If you ask Lee who supported him during those busy seasons, he doesn’t hesitate to tell you – his family. As he gets older, he recognizes the sacrifices they made to get him where he is today.
“Driving here and there, taking off work, doing whatever it took. Really, they were breaking their backs to make sure we were good,” Lee acknowledged.
It wasn’t until his teen years that Lee realized football was going to be ‘his’ sport.
“Around high school was when I was like ‘yeah, I’m a football player,’” Lee said. The USC linebacker says freshman year of high school is when he started to recognize his own talent. When he got his first offer, he thought to himself, “okay maybe I’m pretty good.”
With that realization comes a whole new set of feelings he’d deal with throughout his career – doubt.
“It creeps in a lot,” Lee remarked. “Especially post-injury, coming off big injuries and stuff like that creates a lot of doubt.”
Doubt is a feeling all too familiar for athletes around the world, but Lee’s awareness of those feelings stands out amongst others.
“It’s human nature to doubt yourself, but I always wanted to figure out where the doubt was coming from and how I could alleviate myself of it,” Lee stated. “It does rear its ugly head at different times and you never know when really.”
With that said, the USC senior has always had an avenue to handle those emotions.
“I’ve always found comfort in work, so I would constantly workout,” Lee says, but he also understands it goes beyond the body. That he has to create a lifestyle to keep doubts at bay.
“Whenever I’m on point with how I’m living and what I’m doing, the doubt is few and far between,” Lee said. “I’m able to silence it because I don’t believe it at this point, I know it’s not real.”
With that same level of intuition, he’s able to be an admirable team captain. The senior says it’s an honor to know that his teammates and peers look at him in that kind of light.
Lee describes himself as an introvert, but in his leadership roles, he has found joy in pushing himself outside his comfort zone to be there for his teammates.
“You know other people are looking to you and you never know what something could do for someone, no matter how big or small.” The team captain understands the impact he could have on others around him, specifically on a personal level. Growing up, he closely watched how his dad and grandad carried themselves; the two people whose leadership skills he looks up to most to this day.
“People looked at them differently and I always took to that,” Lee said. “Everybody doesn’t get that response, I just always wanted to be looked at like that, how they were looked at.”
After reading that, it’s safe to say Shane Lee strives to serve as a mentor and leader for the 2022 USC Trojans. “You know what it’s like to be a player – everybody’s working hard every day, everybody’s putting their all into this,” Lee stated.
While he takes his role as team captain seriously, in the off-season, he made sure to enjoy some time with the players whose interests are rather unique.
“It’s really cool because we’ve got a lot of different interests on the team. A group of guys took me golfing. I’ve been to the beach with a couple of guys, we’ve watched movies as a unit, it’s all different groups of people too, so it’s fun and super accepting.”
However, one specific memory stands out above the rest.
“There was one day in the summertime we all had to stand up and sing the USC fight song. It was all the freshmen and all the new people in the organization. Everybody who wasn’t new to USC got to boo us and throw papers at us.”
He laughs and sarcastically describes the moment that came shortly after his transition to USC as “cool.”
Prior to entering the NCAA transfer portal, he spent three seasons with the University of Alabama under Head Coach Nick Saban. During his time with the Crimson Tide, Lee was awarded Freshman All-America honors from the Football Writers Association and ESPN.com, while also adding on All-SEC honors in 2019. Lee appeared in five games as a sophomore before being sidelined with a sports hernia injury. He would return to the field his junior year where he appeared in 11 games, one of which was the 2021 College Football Playoff championship game. In his three years at Alabama, Lee recorded 96 tackles and appeared in 29 games.
When the University of Southern California became an option, Lee didn’t think twice and announced his move 10 days after entering the portal.
“The name itself makes you stop and think for a second,” Lee said in regard to the opportunity. “It seemed like something I didn’t want to miss.”
While the changes were exciting, the geographical coast-to-coast aspect wasn’t exactly easy. Being that far from home, more than twice as far as he was at Alabama definitely scared Lee. Remember at the beginning of the story when we said that would deter most people from making a change? Well, Lee took the opposite approach and pushed himself outside of his comfort zone once again.
“I knew I’d grow the most coming out here (Los Angeles, California).”
Lee believes his time at Alabama allowed him to make a very important realization.
“Before I was at Alabama, I asked myself, what are they (Crimson Tide) doing? There has to be something special. Then you get there and realize it’s a lot of hard work. It’s focus, discipline, and consistency. It’s doing the little stuff day in and day out.”. During his time in Tuscaloosa, Lee adapted those traits and has since instilled those qualities within his USC teammates.
Since being in Southern California, Lee has set new, higher goals.
“I really want to learn about the game, learn about myself, and learn how I can grow.”
It’s not all X’s and O’s, he’s playing for this season. “It’s all about building relationships with my teammates and learning about them.” Something he believes will help him as a team captain. “That’s the cool thing about sports that I love, you don’t play on a team by yourself.”
When asked what word he would use to describe his mindset for the remaining games, Lee paused for a second and said “it would have to be persistence.”
“The season’s a long time and you never know what you’ll have to face or overcome. We’ve already overcome a lot.”
With persistence, Lee says he’s going to continue the season “chopping wood and carrying water.” A proverb that encompasses exactly the way he lives: pushing forward, even when opportunities are outside his comfort zone.
As the 2022 USC season continues, follow Lee’s journey on Instagram at @shane_lee35
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