Char’quez Lee only had six varsity football games under his belt when the first of many Football Bowl Subdivision scholarship offers came his way.
The offer not only surprised, but it inspired Lee.
“My eighth-grade year I played quarterback,” Lee said. “When I came to high school I was like, ‘Wow! Quarterback in high school is different.’ So, I started at defensive back as a freshman.”
Although he appeared in just six games in the COVID-shortened 2020 season at Immaculata-La Salle High School in Miami, Florida, Lee displayed enough talent to receive a scholarship offer from Syracuse University that spring.
“It came out of nowhere,” he said. “So many guys don’t get offered until their senior year and I got one as a freshman. That meant a lot and made me know I could do this.”
“This” is playing major college football, which the 6-foot-2, 210-pound linebacker will do in the fall of 2024 with the East Carolina Pirates. Lee, who’ll spend his senior prep campaign at Miami’s Palmetto High, made a verbal commitment to ECU’s football recruiting Class of 2024 on July 3rd after taking four of his five allowed official visits in June.
Lee made treks to Florida Atlantic (June 2), Central Florida (June 9), and Appalachian State (June 15) before rolling into Greenville on June 22nd. The latter visit made a lasting impression on Lee.
“When I walked in there, I felt something different than all the other visits,” he said. “The first thing we did was axe throwing. I’ve never done axe throwing a day in my life. But I really had fun doing it. It was very competitive. I got to play with all the other linebackers.”
With his college decision made, Lee is now concentrating on a strong finish to his high school career. He transferred to powerhouse Miami Palmetto in January after three years at Immaculata-LaSalle, a private school with about 800 students located in the Coconut Grove neighborhood of Miami.
During three seasons and 26 games with Immaculata-LaSalle, Lee made 165 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, a sack and two interceptions. He produced 100 tackles, seven tackles for loss and an interception in 10 games as a junior.
The move to Palmetto is a big change in the student body — about 2,800 attend Palmetto — and competition. The Panthers will have at least 23 former players on major college football rosters this fall and five seniors with FBS offers in their 2023 lineup.
“He wanted to compete at the highest level,” Palmetto coach Mike Manasco said. “He came in January, but we didn’t know anything about him. But he showed interest in our program. Then I got to meet him and see what kind of kid he is. Obviously, I watched some (highlight) tape on him. He’s a tremendous football player. He’s a better kid, a better person.
“He’s just a guy when he walks in the room, he lights it up. He’s done a tremendous job improving the culture of our locker room, not just the play on the field. He’s an all-around guy. He’s going to make ECU a much better place.”
Manasco compares Lee’s skills to a former Palmetto great, Eddie Williams. Williams, who’ll be a senior at Florida Atlantic University this season, ranked among the nation’s top tacklers a year ago before an injury caused him to miss the final four games.
“Eddie Williams was a three-year starter here, a freak athlete, just a tremendous kid and a tremendous tackler,” Manasco said. “His sophomore, junior and senior years he had over 100 tackles each season. He’s a little undersized. Quez is not. But as far as the way they play with that grit and toughness, he (Lee) reminds me of him (Williams).”
East Carolina began recruiting Lee after he transferred to Palmetto. Pirate defensive coordinator and inside linebacker coach Blake Harrell made the initial contact with Lee, and new cornerbacks coach Jules Montinar continued the recruitment. Montinar, who is from Naples, FL, already had a strong connection with Manasco and the Palmetto staff after serving stints as an assistant coach at Florida and South Florida.
Lee received a scholarship offer from ECU when Montinar attended spring practice at Palmetto in early May.
“Jules has a great reputation down here in South Florida for being a recruiter and a good man,” Manasco said. “A lot of us coaches down here respond well to those kinds of recruiters. Jules has done a good job at every stop he’s been.”
In addition to the four schools to which Lee made official visits, he also had scholarship offers from Akron, Bowling Green, Charlotte, Coastal Carolina, Florida International, Georgia State, Indiana, Liberty, Marshall, South Alabama, Alabama-Birmingham, Western Kentucky, Western Michigan, and, of course, Syracuse.
Lee said during his official visit ECU head coach Mike Houston sealed his commitment to the Pirates with a simple conversation in his office.
“We were talking and he said, ‘You really have a chance to play here your freshman year,”’ Lee said. “Usually coaches tell you ‘You can play later on.’ But Coach Houston said when I get there, I’ll have a chance. I don’t have to worry about anything. Just be competitive.”
Manasco believes Lee will be well prepared to help the Pirates at the WILL, or weak-side linebacker position as soon as he arrives on campus in the summer of 2024.
“When he steps on campus he’s going to play,” Manasco said. “He’s that kind of player. I don’t want to say too much about us, but the competition we play down here and the athletes we see week in and week out really prepares these guys to play early. We have 23 kids playing Division I ball this fall. The reason they see the field early is the competition they see on the field, not only in practice but the teams we play down here in South Florida.”
ECU CLASS OF 2024 FEATURE PROFILES
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• Hoops star turned offensive tackle picks ECU
• Class of 2024 starts with prized receiver
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• ECU FOOTBALL RECRUITING CLASS OF 2024
• ECU FOOTBALL RECRUITING CLASS OF 2023