Nebraska QB Tanner Lee talks starting job, Tulane, Jesuit, family and more
Not many college recruits, let alone a quarterback has faced quite the tests Destrehan, LA native Tanner Lee has endured during his career as a signal caller.
The 22-year-old signal caller shut the door on recruiting early back when he was playing for Jesuit High School based out of New Orleans.
Lee finished his career at Jesuit notching 30 wins while throwing for nearly 4,000 yards, 39 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. He was ranked in the Top 50 recruits in Louisiana.
When reflecting on his time with the Blue Jays, Lee spoke fondly of his former high school.
“The biggest thing for me choosing Jesuit was the fact that Garrett (older brother) went there and my uncle and grandfather went there. My younger brother Marshall just graduated from there. So it is a family tradition. All three of us have been put through there,” Lee said. “I liked the fact that I could go there and write my own legacy. I really think it got me ready for college athletically and especially academically.
Lee would eventually sign to play quarterback for the Tulane Green Wave.
Lee chose Tulane out of loyalty because they were the first college who showed interest in him during his prep career at Jesuit.
Another priority for Lee was getting the chance to earn a starting job early. He also lived down the street from then quarterback coach Mike Neu. All the writing on the wall was telling Lee that Tulane was the right choice.
“I built a really strong relationship with Mike Neu. He came from the New Orleans Saints as a lot of the staff at the time. It was an NFL staff. Developing that relationship was probably the biggest reason I went there. I wanted to go somewhere where I could play early,” Lee said. “Once I got that offer, I figured let’s do it. Why not? I shut my recruiting down at that point. I had a good place to go and I had a spot. If I could go back in time, I would do it again because it formed me into the player I am today.”
After redshirting his first year, Lee started as a redshirt freshman for the Green Wave and again as a sophomore.
He finished his Tulane career with 3,601 yards, 23 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. He finished 5-14 as a starter. He believes battling that kind of adversity could be a blessing in disguise.
“You have to get through every week and win games and we didn’t win many games, plain and simple. Sometimes you take tough losses and you have to go right back at it the next week,” Lee said. “It has helped me learn to put things behind and focus on what is important in winning the next week. My knowledge of the game grew. The knowledge of how to take care of my body grew. A lot of things I learned at Tulane, I use today and I am very appreciative of all that.”
After spending three years (one redshirt) with the Green Wave, Head Coach Curtis Johnson was fired leaving Lee with a tough decision.
Lee opted out of Tulane after Willie Fritz was selected to replace Johnson as the head coach for the Green Wave.
From a philosophy standpoint, he knew he would not have the same opportunities he had under Johnson. Fritz runs a triple option offense which does not cater to pro-style quarterbacks like Lee. But leaving behind teammates and friends was tough for him.
“It was probably the toughest decision I have ever had to make. Leaving all the hard work, time and effort, it was tough to make that decision,” he said. “I didn’t really have a choice, but I was lucky to have some opportunities waiting on the other side. I got to go through that recruiting process that I didn’t get the chance to go through in the beginning. I made that decision from a different perspective. It wasn’t from a 17-year-old kid interested in jerseys and the locker room.”
Lee took on the recruiting battle as teams lined up to take the 6’4 220 lbs. pro-style quarterback. Transferring to another FBS program would mean he would have to sit out a year, losing out on what would be his junior season. That gave him on more year to prove himself.
However, thanks to an appeal with the NCAA, Lee secured an extra year of eligibility giving him three years (including the season he has to sit) in one of college football’s best conferences, the Big 10. Lee decided to take his talents to Nebraska and play under head coach Mike Riley and his staff.
“It was really amazing. It was an easy sell because it is a true college football experience. The dedication that the fans and school have to perfection and putting their best out there was easy to see,” Lee said. “Coach Riley is one of the best men I have ever met. I love playing for him and I want to do well for him. Coach (Danny) Langsdorf is the same way. I think we have a great relationship. We were able to build that relationship during recruiting. I liked the way he taught and how consistent he was. I kept finding things I liked and wanted to be a part of. It worked out really well.”
Although it is quite the jump from the American Conference to the Big 10, Lee feels it is a task he can handle.
“When it comes down to the different conferences, football is still football,” he said. “The lineman might be a little bigger. The crowds might be a little bigger. But, the plays are all the same and you’re still looking at the same stuff. It has been fun to see the things they do here and I am really glad to be part of it.”
Even after securing his extra year, Lee was still scheduled to sit out the first year due to transfer rules. He took that time to drink in as much information as he could from former quarterback Tommy Armstrong and learn the playbook like the back of his hand.
“I knew I was going to have to run the scout team. I had a goal to be scout team MVP and I did that,” he said. “I got to learn a lot from the great seniors we had. As we got to spring, I just wanted to show some consistency, move the ball and help the team.”
After throwing for 190 yards (13-19) and 3 touchdowns for the Cornhuskers in front of nearly 80,000 Cornhusker fans, Lee received the starting nod from Head Coach Mike Riley.
“I was excited that we got to make some plays and we had some of the touchdowns there,” Lee said. “But altogether, we had a real good spring. I was able to get more comfortable with the offense, just the ins and outs of everything we were doing. I got to bring that into the spring game and everything worked out well.”
Lee said he was called into Riley’s office after putting on a clinic in the spring game, at which point he was told that he was going to be the starting quarterback for the Cornhuskers in 2017.
“It was a really good feeling. It was a lot of hard work I put into it. I am just looking forward to keeping it going,” Lee said. “I was just called to a meeting with coach (Riley). He put his arm around me and said he was going to name me the starting quarterback and how much he appreciated the hard work. He was looking forward to the season. I told him I would continue to earn it and keep giving him my best. I thanked him for the opportunity. One year ago, I didn’t know if I would have this opportunity.”
Lee said he owes a lot of it to his support system at home as his family was the first to find out about his big news.
“My mom and dad kind of kept me level-headed throughout the whole process and made sure I was earning what I was chasing,” he said. “They are my biggest fans and always have been my biggest supporters so it was good to hear that from them.”
When asked about the numbers in the spring game, there is only one number he cares to count…wins. After finishing 5-14 with Tulane as a starter, he is hungry to win some ball games and he is ready for the challenge.
“In the past, I haven’t won many games and that is my biggest goal. That is the biggest reason I came to Nebraska. I wanted the opportunity to win a lot of games. I wanted the opportunity to win championships. That is my highest goal and what we are working towards right now. It is something I haven’t achieved yet and it is something I am striving for,” Lee said. “It is going to be a lot of fun to play at Nebraska.”
Later this month, Lee will be attending the Manning Passing Academy at THE Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, LA. He is hoping to have another year of sponging information from the Manning’s as well as other quarterbacks from around the country.
“It is great to be around the Mannings in a personal setting. It is cool to just be one of the guys when you are away from all the fans and everything,” he said. “They are always eager to help.”
After the MPA, Lee heads back to Nebraska to finish some summer classes and continue working this offseason to lead the Cornhuskers in 2017. When asked about his leadership, Lee said it is important to find balance in leading by example and when to be the mouthpiece for your team.
“It has got to be both, especially in college when you’re dealing with so many personalities and different backgrounds,” he said. “You have to know when to turn on the hype man. You have to know when you need to get the energy up and get people motivated. There is a time for that and there is a time where you have to go in and get the work done.”
Nebraska is set to open the season Saturday, September 2 against Arkansas State. Be sure to check out Tanner this season.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish Tanner the absolute best in 2017 as well as speaking with me.
I have known his family and his brother Garrett since I was in pre-school pissing on myself. They are wonderful people and I can’t wait for this season. Seeing as how the only team I have any loyalty towards plays in the FCS (Nicholls), these next two years, you know damn well who I am rooting for! Go Huskers! #GBR
Listen to the full interview below…