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Wilbert Lee wanted to start his high-school football career early. Once he got his acceptance letter to Boys & Girls the spring before his freshman year, he personally introduced himself to coach Barry O’Connor.
O’Connor was immediately struck with the eighth-grader’s frame – at 6-foot, 180 pounds, the coach recalled, Lee, who was playing Pop Warner football with the Canarsie Renegades at the time, was already built like a senior. He envisioned a four-year starter, however it was Lee’s initiative that stuck with O’Connor.
“I was impressed that a kid who hadn’t even entering the school was that interested,” he said. “He came religiously. That’s a special kid.”
Two years later, Lee still stands out.
He is one of the reasons the 10th-seeded Kangaroos are in the PSAL semifinals, preparing to face No. 1 Port Richmond Saturday afternoon in Staten Island.
Only a sophomore, Lee is starting at outside linebacker and running back. He enjoyed a solid regular season, scoring five touchdowns as a wide receiver/kick returner, which included winning Boys’ Week 2 victory over New Utrecht with an 82-yard kickoff return.
The team’s youngest player didn’t truly break out until the playoffs.
In the opening-round of a 27-20 victory over No. 7 Campus Magnet, starting left wing back Kaseem Cousar went down with an ankle injury. Lee had never seen much time at the position, but was immediately told by assistant coach: “you got to show me you can play this position.”
He responded, running for the game-winning 70-yard touchdown, leaving the Bulldogs gasping for air as he dashed to pay dirt. The play, senior running back Kristopher Moton said, was supposed to go to fellow starter Khalif Osson. But the senior was slightly winded and told Lee to run it, a play, Moton said, left O’Connor speechless.
“He didn’t expect that,” Moton said.
Lee followed up that performance by scoring twice in last week’s 28-22 upset of No. 5 Sheepshead Bay, returning a Joel Bowen interception 15 for a score and connected with quarterback Evan Rugel on a 39-yard touchdown. He also set up the game-winning drive by turning a simple slip screen into a 25-yard gain.
“He adds another dimension for us,” Moton said. “He’s a game-changer.”
The Kangaroos rely on a smash-mouth style, churning out first downs with their run-dominated Delaware Wing-T system. But Lee is cut from a different cloth, a speedy yet bulldozing 6-foot-2, 210-pound back, who can bench press 285 pounds and squat 385. He isn’t the fastest runner nor does he have the best juke moves, but he hasn’t been caught yet, either.
“You call that game speed,” O’Connor said.
“I feel like in certain situations,” he added, “I have to make the big play.”
When Cousar, the senior tailback who rushed for 739 yards and five touchdowns during the regular season, went down, Osson and Moton spoke to him, telling Lee what was expected. On a team with 33 seniors, the Kangaroos were suddenly counting on a sophomore. They told Lee he had to play like a senior, treat every game as the veterans did – as if it could be their last.
“I have to play like there is no next year,” he said.
Of course, he has time left. Lee will be the program’s foundation next fall, the main cog in what may be a rebuilding year. But there are only smiles from the Kangaroos to describe Lee’s future. O’Connor called his potential “scary.” The summer of his freshman year, Lee went to Jay Fiedler camp and was catching passes over rising seniors.
“I don’t see any sophomore that’s like him,” Moton said.
Off the field Lee is a jokester, the player that keep the clubhouse light. He has mastered impressions of the Kangaroos’ coaches, although Lee has yet to share it with them.
“The best thing about him is that he’s still a kid – nothing’s gone to his head,” O’Connor said. “The seniors haven’t anointed him. They still get on him.”
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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