Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill recognized the incredible talents of the outstanding student-athlete when he was recruited out of nearby Maben some 18 miles from the gates of Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field on the MSU campus.
"Donald (Lee) is one of the most underrated players in the Southeastern Conference," said Sherrill numerous times of the Dogs' all-round performer who can block as well as catch passes.
It's well known among the Mississippi State staff that Lee was ready to play as a freshman. He swapped his old Maben Blue Devils' jersey No. 21 for a Maroon & White No. 84, the same number he wore in the East-West Shrine Classic. A credit in the community as well as on the gridiron, Lee hasn't missed a game since donning No. 84, a span of 48 straight engagements.
"I've been blessed, there's no doubt," said Lee, who caught a number of memorable touchdown passes. One that will go down in the record books is a game-tying TD grab his sophomore campaign against Texas A&M in the 2000 Independence Bowl to send the contest into overtime, and eventually, a thrilling, 43-41, triumph by the Bulldogs at snow-covered Sanford Stadium in Shreveport, La.
"If I had it to do all over again, I'd go to Mississippi State," said Lee. "I love Coach Sherrill and all the coaches. Everything is working out for me. That's what my mother always told me 'if I'd be patient and always work hard someday I'd begin to reach my goals' and that's coming true.
"I wouldn't take anything for my mother being able to go to all our home games at Mississippi State. She went to them all, too," added Lee, a star in the classroom as well as on the field who was named to the All-SEC Academic Honor Roll.
A young man of faith, Lee is quick to give the credit to the Lord and also his mother, Linda Wordlaw, for seeing him through.
"I love my mother and my brother Sylvestra," he said, adding his high school coach Maben's Ken Williamson has always been there for him as well.
A "can't miss" tag was put on Lee by Williamson as early as the seventh grade.
"Donald Lee stood out from the beginning. We always knew he was going to be special and not only in sports. He's done so much in the community and the younger players all look up to him," noted Williamson, who didn't hesitate to take his star pupil to the airport in Jackson to catch a flight to San Francisco.
The veteran coach watched each exciting play of the game on television as did practically the entire town of Maben. Following the game, Williamson drove back to Jackson International to pick up the former Blue Devil star, who had 167 catches for 2,667 yards and 21 TDs during a brilliant prep career, and bring him back to his hometown of Maben.
No doubt, every TV set in Maben was tuned in to the East-West game in San Francisco that was carried by ESPN.
Following the game, the star of the East-West Classic called his mother who watched the game on TV along with a number of friends and relatives.
"Mom was so excited," said Lee, the recipient of the MVP Trophy that was presented during a special postgame show.
"I'm so proud of Donald," said his mother, Linda, still trying to take in all the wonderful things she's seen happen to her son, who himself had some emotional moments and they were not all at Pacific Bell Park.
A visit to the Children's Shriners Hospital in the Bay Area turned out to be an unforgettable experience for Lee who undoubtedly has a soft spot in his heart for young people.
"I had to hold back the tears when we talked to some of the kids, some so young," admitted Lee, adding, "that's when you realize how truly blessed you are. But I enjoyed being around all the kids."
One of the oldest charity events in the country, the East-West Classic was first played in 1925, and has raised more than $14 million for the Shriners Hospital.
Lee received invitations to the Hula Bowl and also the Florida Gridiron Classic, but turned them both down to prepare for the NFL Combine which is coming up this spring in Indianapolis.
"I want to be fresh for the Combine and right now I feel great," said Lee, already gauging NFL Draft possibilities.
"I know there's still a lot of work ahead. Hopefully, I'll be ready," explained Lee, dreaming of the likes of record-setting Shannon Sharpe of the Denver Broncos and the New York Giants' heralded rookie tight end Jeremy Shockey.
Lee said he's received a lot of encouragement and support throughout his collegiate career from his coaches and fellow players.
One former MSU standout in particular who has become a close friend is Atlanta Falcons tight end Reggie Kelly of Aberdeen.
"Reggie's my kind of player," notes Lee, who had 61 career catches with the Bulldogs, although being utilized at times specifically as an extra blocker for the running game.
"That's okay with me," acknowledged Lee, noting that he did get a little excited when he found out one of the East quarterbacks was Ken Dorsey, of the Miami Hurricanes, who'll throw the ball in a minute's notice.
"I had an idea I was going to see the ball a lot, both the tight ends, when we worked out in practice," said Lee, pointing out it was exciting and very motivational to meet East coach Tyrone Willingham of Notre Dame.
One of the Blue Devils all-time favorites and a four-year standout for the Bulldogs, Lee said current MSU coaches Terry Lewis and Rob Morgan helped him immensely throughout his career.
"They were always there to encourage me and help me through the good times and the hard times and I'll always be thankful.
"Put God first and a lot of good things will happen," notes Lee, adding he hopes to one day give something special back to his family, his community and his school.
A special one in a lifetime student-athlete, it's foreseeable Don Lee will always have something good to give.
Don Foster, a veteran newspaper writer who is the Sports Editor for the Starkville Daily News, writes a weekly article for Gene's Page.