Predicting 2019’s top Jayhawks: No. 3, S Mike Lee
As the start of the college football season inches closer by the minute, here at KUsports.com and the Lawrence Journal-World we are counting down to kickoff by each day revealing a new KU player on Benton Smith’s list predicting the top 11 Jayhawks for the 2019 season.
Les Miles will lead the Kansas football team onto the field for the first time on Aug. 31 versus Indiana State.
Ahead of his senior season at Kansas, Mike Lee has a few simple individual goals in mind.
“Make more plays for the team, get more turnovers, just going each and every week 1-0,” the free safety from New Orleans said this past week.
But let Lee continue talking about objectives for the three months and 12 games ahead, especially in terms of what he wants to help the Jayhawks accomplish as a team, and those desires grow much larger in scope and include designs of playing in a bowl game or even the Big 12’s title game.
Those are holy grail types of thoughts when it comes to the long struggling Kansas football program. And Lee knows that as well as anyone, having experienced just two league victories over the course of the previous three seasons.
So what makes the impassioned senior defensive back think such dreams could be realized?
“I feel like last year we were competing with a lot of good teams,” Lee contended. “I feel like we’re more experienced enough as a defensive whole and as a team, really combined. We’re better than what we were.”
The Jayhawks will try to prove his forecast accurate in the weeks ahead. And while Lee points to the physicality emphasized by Miles’ staff as an encouraging sign entering this season, his willingness to be bold in his belief about what he wants the team to accomplish is a reminder that he’s challenging himself more these days.
Former KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen, currently Lee’s position coach at safety, said Lee didn’t used to be a vocal type of leader.
“But he’s a respected player on the team, because he does show up every day and play hard and play with a little bit of an edge about him,” said Bowen, who has seen every step of Lee’s college career.
According to Lee’s teammates, that default lead by example approach has changed of late. The KU defense is manned by a veteran secondary, and senior cornerback Hasan Defense said Lee has taken more ownership and shown a willingness to steer his teammates in the right direction.
“We’re at a point where you should know what you need to do,” Defense said. “At the end of the day, if you don’t know what you need to do, Mike’s gonna let you know. Mike’s gonna hold you accountable, and nothing less, by any means necessary.”
Lee has always been a proud player. Now he’s finding greater gratification in trying to make sure the secondary is a strength for KU.
“We set the tone. We bring the energy to the team,” Lee said. “We’re experienced enough on the defensive side to force a lot of turnovers and get this team to where we want to be.”
All the defeats and disappointments the past few years also doubled as experience for KU veterans, such as Lee, Defense and Bryce Torneden.
A year ago, Lee finished tied for third on the KU defense in total tackles with 68. He also intercepted a pass, forced three fumbles and recovered a fumble. With a defensive backfield filled with upperclassmen, Lee expects more out of himself and much more out of the Jayhawks as a team.
Preseason dreams and words only carry weight if they are followed up with the kind of actions that can turn them into results. Lee is just one man on one side of the ball playing for a program that hasn’t posted a winning record since 2008.
You can’t knock his boldness.
“I’m very confident. Can’t lose no confidence,” Lee said, with his typical grin. “Once you’re confident, you’re confident.”