Football star Lee looking for first title in track
LOS ANGELES - Marqise Lee spends a late morning at USC's Cromwell Field & Loker Track Stadium fine tuning.
In gray shorts and a gray USC football t-shirt, the USC freshman All-American works on mechanics five days removed from the biggest track meet of his life.
He's momentarily put the football aside to enter the long jump pit.
The track season for him is not quite finished, much to his surprise.
The same competitiveness and tenacity that earned him Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Co-Player of the Year on the football field last fall, was on display last week at the NCAA Regionals.
Down to his last try, Lee needed a good jump.
He was struggling finding the board. His first jump was just 18 feet. On his second attempt, he fouled. Lee along with everybody else at the meet in Austin, Texas knew that wasn't going to be enough to advance.
"I knew I wanted to do something for the team," Lee said. "Even though they say track is an individual sport, it's still a team thing because you need to win some as a team.
"My mindset was getting at least one jump for the team. I didn't want to leave my best jump at 18 feet and just be stuck. That's basically being a bust."
Lee re-focused, gathered his thoughts, and gave it all that he had on his final attempt.
He jumped a personal-best 25 feet, 5 1/2 inches to qualify for this week's NCAA Championships in Des Moines, Iowa.
"He's got all the gifts. That's big time because most kids in that type of pressure are going to fold," said USC jumps coach Michael Pullins. "It goes without saying. You see it every Saturday in the fall, he's gifted. He just has a knack for finding the ball, finding the board. He's kind of a throwback."
Lee shocked himself with his accomplishment. He never imagined being able to compete for a national championship in track before he did on the football field.
"My whole ambition for track was just to get faster and work on some of the things I needed to work on, like my explosiveness off the board," Lee said. "Once I made the (NCAA) Regionals, I was happy with that. I wasn't sure I was going to make the NCAA (Championships) because they have a lot of good jumpers out there but I was still going to go out there and compete. That's in my blood (to) go out there and compete.
"Thank God I made it to the NCAAs. I never thought I would make it, though, to tell you the truth."
Lee's focus remains on his approach run and hitting the board.
"90 percent of (the difficulty with his) jumps is the run," Pullins said. "The more confident you are with your run, the more aggressive you're going to be. He's stronger, faster, but if you're not familiar with the run, it's not going to help you."
In Lee's case, his approach run was too fast. When he runs "85 percent" he has no problem hitting the board, but when he goes "100 percent" he's either "behind or over" the board. That affected him in Austin, when at the meet he was going 100 percent. It's something he and Pullins are working on to prepare for the NCAA Championships.
To Lee's credit, and what helped him jump a PR at the Regionals is what Pullins says is his case of "steering," where he has the ability to find the board.
"That's something that you can't teach, it's a natural ability," Pullins said.
The coaching staff remarks about what Lee has been able to do in limited practice time due to football obligations.
Pullins thinks Lee could be a conference champion and could break the school record of 27 feet, 4 1/2 inches set by Randy Williams in 1972, with extensive training.
"When (a coach) tells all of the coaches and they all say 'You're capable,' it's like man if I'm capable and I'm not doing it, I got to go out there and show them I can do it," Lee said. "That's the thing about making coaches happy. If they're going to put their time into me, I need to (produce) for them."
So far he's given his football and track coaches plenty to smile about during his freshman year.
Lee's goal at the end of spring football practice was to jump 25 feet. He's done that.
"Now my goal is to go to NCAAs and hopefully jump 26 (feet)," he said. "Or at least further than I jumped last time."