SE: K-State LB Lee Always Driven for More

Hanging on one of Elijah Lee’s walls in his room is a reminder in the form of a piece of paper. Printed on it are Lee’s 2015 statistics, which may have earned him Second-Team All-Big 12 honors but were not good enough in his eyes. 

Thus is the mindset of Lee, K-State’s never-be-satisfied outside linebacker. 

“My expectations are just to do better than I did last year,” said Lee, who led K-State in tackles and interceptions as a sophomore. “I try to improve each and every game and say, ‘Hey, I have to get better this week,’ because last year I didn’t do as well as I wanted.”

Even coming off a career performance against West Virginia that earned him Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week, Lee was left only wanting more. 

“I’ve been here for almost three years now and that’s something I haven’t experienced before,” said Lee, who totaled a career-high 14 tackles, including 12 solo stops, a sack and an interception against the Mountaineers. “That’s just more motivation, because once you get it, you know you want to get it again.”

Lee definitely has not lacked motivation since he first stepped on the field for K-State as a true freshman in 2014, when he served as a rush end on third-and-long situations. To become a standout linebacker, Lee needed time, repetitions and a personal drive to speed up the process any way he could. 

First, Lee focused on improving his lateral quickness — a vital asset for linebackers in the Big 12. One person he leaned on was his “best friend” in Dalvin Warmack, K-State’s speedy running back he played with at Blue Springs High School. 

“I’ve come very far. Whenever your best friend is a running back, that’s something he can help you with,” the junior said of his lateral speed, which he worked on by doing 1-on-1 drills against offensive skill players in practice and working often with Warmack outside of it. “Dalvin helped me with that a lot. I have to give a lot of praise to him because he helped me get my game to where I am today.”

With a year of experience at linebacker, Lee is also processing information faster and, consequently, reacting quicker. It’s a big reason he’s tallied a team-high 33 tackles in four games, including 26 between Stanford and West Virginia, to put him on pace for 99 in the regular season. 

“The experience that he has had allows him to process information quicker,” said K-State head coach Bill Snyder, whose team hosts Texas Tech Saturday at 6 p.m. “That is not the easiest thing to do against teams that go fast. His experience has allowed him to do that, and consequently he plays faster because of it.”

“He’s a student of the game,” added defensive tackle Trey Dishon. “He’s not only an athlete, he just knows football. He knows where to be and when to be at the right time. I think that’s a big reason why he’s such a great linebacker.”

Lee said part of his improvement stems from simply relaxing and trusting his instincts. 

“I’m not thinking too hard, and once I see something, I just go get it instead of trying to process it all,” he said. “Last year I played very slow and tried to do everything perfect, but I learned last year that nothing’s going to be perfect, nothing’s ever going to be perfect, but as long as you can get there, do your job, you can make plays off of that.”

Lee has proven capable of making just about every type of play on defense. In his career, he’s recorded 10 sacks, including five last season, while forcing two fumbles and recovering two as well. His interception against West Virginia was the fourth of his career that made him 1 of 19 active linebackers in the country, and the only one in the Big 12, with that many. 

“There’s nothing that’s shocking me about what he’s doing right now,” said K-State senior defensive end Jordan Willis, who played against Lee in high school. “I always knew he was a guy that was capable of doing it. Nothing’s shocking me, and I think you’re going to see good things moving forward from him.”

“He plays his role. I appreciate that about him,” Snyder added. “He’s not a guy trying to do somebody else’s job for them and getting himself out of position. He’s making plays when they come to him.” 

He’s also getting to more plays than before, evident by his rise in tackles. Lee’s 8.25 tackles per game rank fourth in the conference while his 3.5 tackles for loss place him 19th, both products of his ability to process plays faster and his confidence to trust himself.   

“I’m diagnosing plays, moving around and taking on more of that role of a playmaker,” he said. “I feel a lot more confident than I was last year. There were sometimes when I doubted myself, but my coaches and teammates tell me the sky’s the limit. That’s something I’ve tried to live up to every game.

“You never know what plays you can make until you try. As long as you’re going hard, you never know what can happen.”

Cats for Cans Food Drive Set for Saturday

The Kansas State Athletics Department will hold its 21st-annual Cats for Cans food drive during Saturday’s home football game against Texas Tech. Fans are encouraged to help the K-State Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) fight hunger in Manhattan by participating in the food drive by bringing canned foods or cash donations to the game.

Wildcat student-athletes will begin collecting donations two hours prior to the 6 p.m. kickoff in the parking lot and at all stadium entrances.

All proceeds from the event will go to the Flint Hills Breadbasket in Manhattan. The Breadbasket assists in providing meals for over 2,000 families throughout Manhattan and the surrounding area, especially throughout the holiday season.

This year’s goal is 6,000 pounds of goods and $12,000 worth of monetary donations.

Cats for Cans is just one of many community service projects that allow Kansas State student-athletes to give back to the community in a positive and influential way.

Saturday’s game against Texas Tech, which will be televised nationally by ESPNU, is expected to be the 30th straight sellout at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.