LOS ANGELES — As part of a nationally televised College Football Awards Ceremony, USC wide receiver Marqise Lee was asked to do something that made him so unbelievably nervous.
The producers of the show asked him to stand on the stage and …catch a football. During a recap of the show, Lee was ordered to stand on the stage and catch a pass thrown by Texas A&M Heisman Trophy candidate Johnny Manziel.
“The worst part about it was having to catch that ball on the stage from Johnny,” Lee said. “I was like what the? Catch the ball? I haven’t caught a ball in a long time. I was really nervous during that segment. I made sure I didn’t want to drop the ball.”
In a shirt and tie and under the bright TV lights, Lee caught the pass just as he’d done 112 times throughout the season that helped him become the first USC Trojan to win the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s best wide receiver.
Lee became the fifth Trojan to be a finalist for the award, which has been given annually since 1994. Lee did something Keyshawn Johnson, Mike Williams, Dwayne Jarrett, and Robert Woods, last season, could not do. He was announced as the winner. It’s something he doesn’t take for granted.
“Earning this award was very important,” Lee said. “For the Biletnikoff, at least, we (USC) always have finalists, finally somebody won it. I won this trophy for everybody before me, including Robert. Robert, I feel like, deserves it and he did an amazing job this year and the years before.”
When it came time for the winner to be announced on Thursday night in Orlando, Lee was just as nervous to hear the announcement as he was to stand on the stage and receive the pass from Manziel.
“My heart was beating so fast,” he said. “My heart was racing.”
And then his name was called.
“Once I won, all my teammates came to mind, basically, from Robert to (Matt) Barkley and (offensive) linemen, especially, for maintaining their blocks and everything,” Lee said.
Lee’s rise from a national recruit as a safety to the nation’s best wide receiver is a remarkable feat. It’s even more remarkable when you consider Lee wasn’t even on the Biletnikoff Preseason Watch List.
It was announced a day later Lee would be added in a press release saying, “One player, USC’s Marqise Lee, merited being added to the watch list.”
Lee, the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year, set conference records with 112 receptions and 1,680 yards. He’s caught 14 touchdowns and added one on a kickoff return.
He will receive the 56-pound trophy in February at the 19th Annual Biletnikoff Award Banquet in Tallahassee, Fla.
He says he’s going to keep the trophy in the Trojans locker room so that all of his teammates can enjoy it.
Lee will likely enter next season as a frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy. He entered the conversation for the Heisman this season after a torrid three-game stretch of 663 receiving yards. Included in that total is the conference record 345 receiving yards he had at Arizona.
During that game, he also totaled 469 all-purpose yards, which is second most in NCAA history. USC head coach Lane Kiffin called it “one of the greatest games in the history of college football.”
That appeared to be a launching pad from USC to New York, however, Lee was left off of the invitation in lieu of Manziel, Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o.
“I was hoping I went,” said Lee of not being named a finalist for the Heisman. “I didn’t go but they got three amazing players up there. I got the chance to talk to all three while I was (in Orlando) and all three of them were amazing. All three (are) leaders. Whoever wins it well deserved.
“I still got time. I’m going to make sure I work hard. I’m not going to really focus on the trophy but I’m going to make sure I compete and do the things I need to do in order just to get back up there. It was good just to be mentioned in that conversation.”