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Tracking the Stars of the Future

Football Recruiting Report
Tuesday, May 8, 2012

By Sammy Batten

Big play RB Lee aims for quick impact

Palmetto State star's breakaway speed well-suited for ECU's spread offense


By Sammy Batten
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Robbie Brown was telling anyone who would listen back in the fall of 2009 that Jabo Lee was special.

Brown is the offensive coordinator at Dillon (SC) High School where Lee was a freshman running back at the time. The Wildcats had made it all the way to the state AA, Division I state championship game against Pageland with Lee joining the starting lineup early in the season.

"We had seen him at the junior high level and had seen flashes that he had the tools to be something special,'' Brown said. "But with him new to our system and just learning the dynamics of it, we brought him off the bench the first couple of games. But after about two games we saw he was better than our junior running back.''

Lee rewarded the Dillon coaching staff for their confidence by producing a 61-yard touchdown run to break open the championship game and lead the Wildcats to a 21-20 triumph. It would be the first of two straight state titles for Dillon and Lee.

During those championship runs, Lee caught the eye of East Carolina's staff while Skip Holtz was head coach. When Holtz left for the job at South Florida, incoming ECU coach Ruffin McNeill and his new staff picked up Lee's recruitment.

Their hard work paid off when Lee decided to make a verbal commitment to the Pirates in late March. He did so over an offer list that included Bowling Green, Miami (OH), Minnesota, Tennessee and Virginia Tech.

Longtime Dillon head coach Jackie Hayes also serves in the South Carolina House of Representatives and wasn't available for comment on Lee last week. But Brown, who hails from the same Robeson County in North Carolina that also produced ECU's McNeill, has been the main person charged with finding ways to utilize Lee since his freshman season.

The Pirates have held the upper hand with Lee since he made an unofficial visit to Greenville last season to watch ECU play in-state rival North Carolina, according to Brown.

"He had a lot of interest, from Georgia and Virginia Tech in particular,'' Brown said. "But I think what sold him on East Carolina was the fact that he can go in and have an immediate impact. He went to the ECU-UNC game this past season and was really impressed with the staff at East Carolina. In the back of his mind, I think he kind of made up his mind, but he didn't want to say. He went up for a repeat visit about a week ago and that sold him.''

ECU currently has five scholarship running backs on its roster, but will lose senior Reggie Bullock to graduation after the 2012 season. Three other backs Michael Dobson, Hunter Furry and Torrance Hunt are on track to depart at the end of the 2013 campaign.

Brown believes Lee, a 5-foot-9, 175-pounder with 4.4-second speed in the 40-yard dash, will fit perfectly in ECU's spread offensive attack.

"We run exactly, or very close to what ECU does,'' Brown said. "We have always had a lot of skill players here, so we went to the spread about six or seven years ago. It was the best move we ever made. We've won two state titles and have been in the hunt for several others since we made that move.

"Last year I spent some time talking with (ECU offensive coordinator) Coach (Lincoln) Riley. He told me Jabo is a perfect fit offensively for what they want to do because of his explosiveness and agility.''

Lee almost led Dillon to a third straight state championship as a junior. The Wildcats reached the state finals only to fall 18-15 when Timberland converted a 41-yard field goal with 10 seconds to play.

The game ended another stellar season for Lee, who rushed for 85 yards on 18 carries in the finals. Lee finished the year with 1,642 yards rushing and 27 touchdowns.

Big plays are Lee's specialty, according to Brown, who cited examples made during the 2010 run to the state championship.

"In the state championship game that year, he made two plays, one off a screen pass and another off a flare pass,'' Brown said. "He actually got the first-down yardage because of the design of the plays, but he broke two or three tackles and scored two touchdowns that put the team we were playing in a big hole.

"He makes things happen all the time, even when he does something wrong. I've seen him drop a kickoff and have it go behind him. He picks it up and is all of a sudden surrounded by a pack of defenders. But somehow he comes out of the pack and there he goes. Once he breaks containment, it's over. He's got that kind of speed.''

Lee has become well known throughout South Carolina because of his exploits on the football field and his friendly personality off of it.

"He's a leader,'' Brown said. "The kids in school look up to him. I can go anywhere around the state and have a Dillon shirt on and it never fails, someone will come up to me and ask, 'Hey, you're from Dillon? You know Jabo Lee?'

"He's made a real big name for himself around the state.''

The Pirates are hoping that in the coming years Jabo Lee becomes a household name in North Carolina, too.

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05/08/2012 03:09:10 AM


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