A Trojan Odyssey

Lee Webb was one of several Trojan football players who took part in graduation ceremonies at USC on Friday. In this article, which originally appeared last December in WeAreSC magazine, we take a look at the long road Webb took to get to this point.

Out on Howard Jones Field, starting fullback Lee Webb looks like any other student athlete at USC. A senior majoring in Public Policy and Management, he's known by most Trojan fans as the 6'0, 240 pound human bowling ball who clears the way for those highly publicized tailbacks each Saturday.

You don't see his name in the papers or on the television highlight shows too often, but you can be sure that his teammates and coaches value the importance of what he does for the Trojan running game.

"When he's in there lead-blocking for us, we know that he's going to make the block," junior tailback Hershel Dennis said. "He's a big physical guy, he loves to hit, he loves to put his head in there, and he opens up the holes for the backs. And when he goes out there, he's not selfish or anything. He knows his job and he knows what he has to do, and he goes out there and does it."

"Guys see me come in there and they honestly think that we have a big chance to run the ball right away," Webb said. "I think that the offensive linemen get a bit of a charge when they see me coming in because they know that we're getting ready to rumble. I've talked to LenDale [White] and them, and they say, ‘We know what time it is when you're in there. We know we're going to have a hole to hit.' I'm glad I can bring that to the team and I just try to go out there and do my job as hard as I can."

It's certainly not a job for everybody. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find too many other people out there with their head screwed on straight that are willing to do what Webb does. But sure as day, there he is on each and every play, hurling his body at those linebackers and defensive ends, head-on and without hesitation.

No, the life of a fullback definitely isn't easy, but then, if you know anything about Webb's background while growing up as a youth, then you know that he's never been one to take the easy route, if for no other reason than because he never had the option.

Bouncing in-between living with his father, Arthur Webb, various other family members, and eventually group homes and Foster families, his childhood stands in stark contrast to that of most of the other students with whom he attends class with each weekday at USC.

The youngest of three brothers, Webb learned how to deal with adversity and tough times long before anyone should ever have to.

"I was born out here and I went to Michigan when I was around three," Webb said. "My mom was supposed to meet us at the bus station there, but she never did. So I was without my mom for years. I stayed with my dad for a couple years, and he was going through a lot of problems himself, so next thing you know, me and my two brothers ended up in a place called St. Francis Home for Boys for six months."

Eventually taken in, first by an aunt, and then again by his father, it was around this time that Webb discovered football, and his love for the sport would turn into one of the few constants in a childhood marked by uncertainty.

"I was about 10 at the time and everything just seemed awesome, and that was right about when I first started playing football," Webb said. "My auntie and her family who I was staying with originally got me into it and I've just had a passion for it ever since then."

The good times wouldn't last long though, and in attempt to get a fresh start, Webb's father took his sons and headed back to Los Angeles. Once there however, things didn't improve by a long-shot, and Webb would be faced with some of the toughest times yet.

"My mom had told us that we could stay with her because we had gotten back in contact with her by this time, but when we got out here she said that her boyfriend had made the decision that we couldn't stay there," Webb said. "So we ended up having to walk the streets for a couple days. We went down to skid row, then all the way to Santa Monica, then back to Hollywood, and then back to L.A. Finally my dad had some second cousins that let us stay with them, but that didn't work out so well so we ended up getting our own spot after that, but we just really couldn't get it together. So I ended up going to my eighth grade graduation and it turns out that we don't have a home when I get back because we were evicted. I ended up staying on a bus stop that night, and the next day Children's Services came up and they pull me out of school and I'm in a group home again."

Up next for Webb would be the Foster Care system, and although providing temporary security, he discovered that it was anything but ideal. Through it all though, he never lost hope and showed an uncanny ability to adapt to his surroundings that he still maintains today.

"They tried me in different [Foster homes] because they wanted to find a home for me," Webb said. "The homes that I was taken into, some of the people weren't all that nice, and some of the people were, and it was tough going through that. I obviously got depressed at night when I sat in bed, but I was just like, ‘I'm going to get through it and I'm going to make the best of it no matter how bad it gets.'"

A rare burst of good fortune would come Webb's way at around this time when he moved in with Geraldine Turner, a Foster Parent whose son was a friend of Webb's. Providing the stability of a home, food on the table, and the love that he often times lacked, the Turner household would turn out to be his last stop.

"She was a foster parent so she took me, and it was right around in the Crenshaw area where I had stayed with my dad before we got evicted," Webb said. "She took care of me when there was nothing else out there. She really helped me out."

And so, Webb settled into the life of a student at Crenshaw High School, but it wasn't exactly easy for him to adjust to at first.

Having moved around so much during his childhood from house to house, and family to family, Webb never had any kind of presence in his life to emphasize the importance of academics, and it reflected in the grades he received during his first two years at Crenshaw.

That's when Crenshaw head football coach Robert Garrett, who had seen Webb blossom into a standout football player during that same time, decided to step in and say something.

"My junior year Coach Garrett told me, ‘You know, you really don't have a chance of going to college unless you do something miraculous with your grades.' He basically just broke it all down to me, you know, ‘You're in a foster home so if you don't have any kind of back-up plan after you graduate, you don't have a parent or anything that you can go stay with,' even though my foster mom would have been more than glad to take care of me until I got on my feet. But he was just letting me know the reality of it all, and when I heard that, it was just a complete turnaround for me. I just figured that I had to do something right away. I got my head in the SAT book every week and did all of my work at Crenshaw."

Webb's new found work-ethic also carried over to the football field, and he excelled beyond all expectations in his senior season as he ran for over 1,100 yards with 20 touchdowns while also playing on the defensive side of the ball at linebacker and on the defensive line.

With the academic resume to go along with his on-the-field accomplishments, colleges came calling from far-and-wide, and all of a sudden Webb had promises of future opportunities that he could have never imagined before.

Leaning toward Wisconsin and Washington State during much of the recruiting process, Webb's plans changed when Trojan head coach Paul Hackett came through with a late scholarship offer, and he jumped on it immediately.

"I felt like it was almost the greatest accomplishment that I could ever achieve," Webb said of his gaining entrance into USC. "Just by getting in here and overcoming all of the stuff that had happened to me, I felt like I could make it here and that I could focus on getting a degree, and just make something happen for myself."

To say that Webb has made "something happen" for himself during his time on campus would be an understatement. On pace to graduate in December, Webb has consistently gotten it done both in the class room and on the field.

Switching between fullback and linebacker during his first few years at USC, Webb is now entrenched as the starting fullback. Through hard-work and dedication, he's raised his level of play each and every year, and the 2004 season has seen him become more of a threat within the offense than ever before.

The individual highlight of his career so far came earlier this season in USC's 42-10 victory over BYU in Provo, Utah. It was late in that contest that he took a handoff and bowled into the endzone for what appeared to be a four-yard touchdown run, his first as a Trojan.

The moment was tainted however when a penalty flag was thrown for illegal motion on the offense, negating Webb's score.

It wouldn't take long for Webb to get another chance though, and on the very next play he took it in again, this time from nine yards out.

The play was the icing on the cake in the Trojan win, and the sequence of events that led up to Webb's memorable score is something that he looks back upon fondly today.

"On that first carry I thought that I was just going to rumble for a yard or two, but I ran it and I thought I scored," Webb said. "I didn't even look over to the side where the penalty flag was. By the time I turned around toward our sideline though, Coach Carroll was already telling me to go back in so I knew something was wrong. So I went back in again, and sure enough, with that blocking from the second string offensive line, I went right back in and took it in again. It was awesome, it was a great feeling. Everybody on the sideline came and congratulated me. It was one of the better feelings that I've had since I've been here."

Webb has also gained quite a bit of notoriety for his performance against Arizona State back on October 1st when he formed one-half of the "Rhino package," an alignment where he and fellow fullback David Kirtman line up in the backfield at the same time.

Utilized late in the fourth quarter in the Trojan win, the two interchanged as the ball carrier each play, running out the clock as they pounded on the defense with each run.

"We take a certain pride in that," Webb said on the unique package. "We understand that we've got some gifted backs in front of us and when we get our turn to get in there we just want to pound it down people's throats and run the clock out and hopefully get a touchdown in the process. We really take a lot of pride in blocking for each other and running the ball."

Intense and focused on the field, Webb is actually one of the most easy-going off of it. It's a combination that he's managed to balance perfectly, making him one of the team's natural leaders.

"Off the field it's more of a relaxed time, a time to joke around and play," Webb said. "I enjoy making people laugh. By the way they always seem to laugh, I guess I do it kind of well. And I just try to make everybody happy because the happier we are, the better we're going to play. I don't like a lot of sad faces, a lot of people who are mad or angry, frustrated or depressed, things like that that you can go through when you're not playing or having a bad game. I try and just help out as much as I can with that. But on the field it's all business, it's time to go then. It's all about learning and getting your work done so you can play on Saturday."

Currently focused on the season at hand, one that has the Trojans on the brink of a second straight national title, Webb hasn't had the time to think about what's in store for after college. But with just a few more classes to go before he receives his diploma, he's definitely not likely to be short on options.

"Hopefully I'll have another shot at playing football after this," Webb said. "And if not, I'm about to graduate with a degree. I can get a job now. I know I can get a job with my degree, especially coming from SC. I haven't decided what my overall goal is if football doesn't work out, but right now I would love for my next step to play in the NFL."

So whether the future holds a career in the NFL or in any other profession, after overcoming so much already, Webb can take comfort in the fact that the toughest days are now far behind him.


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