Lee hoping to make his place in Cubs’ running back tradition
by Bran Strickland
bstrickland@annistonstar.com
Aug 23, 2011 | 4706 views |  0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ALEXANDRIA — The humble tone in Jarline Lee’s voice was as heavy as the orange paint on the walls of Larry Ginn Memorial gymnasium. He rattles off names of great former Alexandria players one after another with awe dripping from the expression on his face.

The lengthy list of running backs he named may not be a fraternity, but Lee wants in badly — in a little less humble way.

“I want to at least be in the top three,” he said, referring to the school’s all-time performers. “I know it’ll be hard, but if I work hard, I think I’ll be able to achieve that goal.”

At the start of last season, that goal seemed as far away as the moon.

Only a sophomore, he was ready – albeit with silent impatience – to prove to those in the Valley that he could do the job. However, it wasn’t until Dar Harper went down with an injury that Lee got his chance.

And the proof was preponderant.

Despite only taking over the starting role in the fifth game of the season, Lee responded with 968 yards and eight rushing touchdowns. It was good enough for the first step in his journey, a first-team spot on the all-county squad at running back.

With so much production in such a short time, Alexandria coach Frank Tucker was pleased, to say the least. But the short span makes him give a short answer as to just how big Lee can become.

“I don’t know,” he said. “He hasn’t played a full season, so, I just don’t know yet.”

What Tucker does know is despite what he calls Lee’s unique style of running, he fits right into the mold of how football has long been played in Alexandria: Run first, win at the end.

With the great names that have donned the orange and black in the past, it parallels a professional team that has long sported the orange, too.

During the Mike Shanahan years in Denver, ultra-productive running backs came with just slightly less frequency than death and taxes. In his 14 years at the helm, 11 backs followed the zone blocking, cut once and hit four digits. There was the big name, Terrell Davis, but most were interchangeable faces: like Olandis Gary, Tatum Bell, Reuben Droughns and Mike Anderson.

Experts attributed Denver’s success to the system. Tucker said despite being a run-first system, he’s not smart enough for that to be the case.

“It’s not coaching,” he said. “We’ve always had a tailback-oriented offense that highlights their ability, but 90 percent is because of the athletes.

“I guess we’ve just been blessed with good athletes out here.”

Lee said he studies tape of other good athletes, sometimes shortly before the games. Everybody from Alabama Heisman trophy winner Mark Ingram to NFL star Chris Johnson. But he doesn’t stray too far from his roots either – he watches tapes of the state’s all-time leading rusher and former Valley Cub standout Mac Campbell, too.

From Campbell, who was flipping footballs to referees while Lee was still in diapers, to Chris Evans, who just recently finished his playing days at Samford, Lee wants to become that name that everybody in the Valley knows.

But while it may be his name that has them all abuzz, he knows it’s far from a one-man job. He gives credit for his success to his offensive line and even his receiver – especially senior Tyler Burr.

And if he forgets, Burr doesn’t hesitate to remind him how he’s the main person to help him when teams try to take away running opportunities by overloading the box.

“We run the ball a lot, but you can’t always depend on the run,” Burr said. “Sometimes you have to open it up with a pass.”

As lofty as the goals are that Lee has set for himself, he gives the biggest pat on the back to Burr: “He’s probably the best receiver to ever play here,” Lee said.

Starting left tackle Chance Heath, the team’s strongest man sporting a 350-pound bench press, doesn’t mind accolades being heaped around. He doesn’t need the spotlight. He said he gets all the satisfaction he needs on Friday night when someone breaks for a long run and he just follows behind to meet them in the end zone.

“I remember last year running 60 yards on back-to-back plays – and it was the same play,” said Heath, one of two returning starters. “It puts more stress on you (to perform for the backs), but at the end of the game, you take pride in it.”

Bran Strickland is the sports editor at The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3570 or follow him on Twitter @bran_strickland.
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Lee hoping to make his place in Cubs’ running back tradition by Bran Strickland
bstrickland@annistonstar.com

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