Exclusive with Linebacker U.’s Sean Lee

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By Paul M. Banks

My alma mater, the University of Illinois, is sometimes called “Linebacker U.” And although they have a strong tradition at that position –producing Dick Butkus, the whose name is on the award given to the nation’s best player at LB- Penn State University has an even richer history of linebackers. Thirteen men who played the position at PSU have been named All-American; a superlative no other University can touch. There are currently four former Nittany Lions playing LB in the NFL, with a fifth battling for a roster spot in training camp. The next man to likely join them is senior Sean Lee, currently projected to be a 2-3rd round draft pick. He was a solid first round prospect before losing his 2008 season to an ACL injury in his right knee. I sat down with Lee for an exclusive interview during Big Ten Media Day.

I asked Lee about what the two-sided equation that is playing linebacker at Linebacker U. There’s glory and fame, but also extreme scrutiny and intense responsibility. “You come to PSU as a linebacker and you realize that all of us, we’re going to hold everybody to a certain standard. Paul {Posluszny- former Lion All-American currently with the Buffalo Bills} lived a certain way, acted a certain way, performed a certain way, and that’s how I tried to live and now pass on to the younger guys,” Lee responded.

Posluszny is Lee’s ultimate role model, on and off-the-field. “I would take it as a tremendous compliment,” Lee said if someone compared his game to Posluszny, the man whose injury forced Lee to step in and see his first collegiate action; in the 2006 Orange Bowl win over Florida State. “I try to play like Paul. If you look at film, you’ll see that we look similar in a lot of situations, and that’s a guy I kind of looked up to, and tried to mimic, and then pass down to the younger guys. And the younger guys will try to keep that leadership going, mainly so we can keep that high level of play up,” Lee stated. seanlee

This year, Lee might move from outside to middle linebacker, like Posluszny and another former teammate, the Carolina Panthers’ Dan Connor did before him. This defensive position switch is considered a huge honor, as is Lee’s being named a two-time team captain. Very few players in Nittany Nation achieve this. One who did was Paul, whose actions tutored Lee.

“Mainly me watching him, how detailed he was when it came to practice. How disciplined he was off the field, when it came to practice, preparing for games, and how he got to the ball. He got to the ball nonstop,” said Lee. Getting to the ball has certainly been one of Lee’s strengths.

In 2007 Lee was All-Big Ten and All-American, finishing second in the conference in tackles to teammate Dan Connor. He has a very realistic chance of finishing his career in the top three PSU career tackles list with Posluszny and Connor. With 17 more stops, he’ll enter the top ten. He enters 2009, a preseason second team All-American and a strong candidate for the Butkus, Bednarik, Rotary Lombardi , Lott and Nagurski awards.

So what does Lee consider his strongest of strengths? “I think my leadership, my intensity, a sense of urgency in trying to become a better player, encouraging others to become a better player,” Lee responded before answering my query as to what he needs to improve upon the most. “I’m always trying to work on every facet of my game when it comes to stopping the run, pass coverage, blitzing. I want to be a step faster, become stronger. I’m always trying to find as many things as I can to get better at.” Lee has a reputation for being extremely hard-working and passionate about the game of football, and that last quote is perhaps the best testimonial to his reputation.

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