When the SMU Mustangs traveled to Fort Worth in September 2004 to face crosstown rival TCU, senior linebacker D.D. Lee was the heart of the Mustangs' defense. The fifth-year senior led an overmatched team into Fort Worth, hoping their heart could overcome the Horned Frogs superior size and speed.
It didn't work. TCU sent the Ponies back to Dallas with a 44-0 loss, and with their pride in tatters, and with their defensive captain headed for surgery. In the first quarter, Lee got caught in a pile of players after making a tackle, and felt his right arm give out. When the players climbed out of the pile, Lee's right arm dangled from his side in such a gruesome manner that SMU head coach Phil Bennett called a timeout to check on his star linebacker. When he looked at Lee's arm, Bennett told Lee he was done and directed him toward the team medical staff.
After the timeout, Bennett sent his defense back on the field, and was surprised to see Lee in the huddle. Already behind and having burned one timeout early, Bennett was stuck. Any chance he had of getting the Ponies back into the game would take a significant hit if he burned another first-half timeout so early. So he watched and hoped that Lee wouldn't injure himself further.
Not only did Lee play for the rest of the series, he knocked TCU quarterback Tye Gunn out of the game -- using the injured arm to make the hit.
"I didn't think it was that bad," Lee said. "I popped it out, and popped it back in. I mean, it hurt, but I thought it was OK when I popped it back in. I didn't know about the ligaments."
After that drive, Lee's game and senior season were over. Having already sat out a redshirt season, he also thought his college career was over. Lee had surgery and spent the rest of the season watching practice with a brace on his arm that looked like it came off the set of Robocop?before undertaking an arduous rehab schedule.
Because the injury occurred so early in the season, the NCAA granted him a sixth season. Lee stayed in school, working on his master's degree. By the time spring workouts came around, he got the strength in his arm back to pre-injury levels.?In the fall, he resumed his role as the heart of the SMU defense.
Still, for all the courage and hard work Lee showed in getting back on the field, his inclusion among the 10 tryout players taking part in last weekend's rookie mini-camp represented the longest of longshots. The Cowboys brought four inside linebacker candidates to camp: Kai Parham (Virginia) and Oliver Hoyte (North Carolina State) were signed between the draft and the mini-camp, while J.J. Horne (Pittsburgh) was signed Monday after camp. The 6-foot-0, 235-pound Lee is the shortest and lightest of the four, and play a position at which head coach Bill Parcells likes big, durable players. His chances of getting invited to training camp is slim, but Lee has not yet given up hope.
"I thought I did OK this weekend," Lee said. "But it's not up to me, it's what the coaches think."
Even on that front, Lee arrived at camp prepared. Practice squad running back Keylon Kincade was in Lee's recruiting class at SMU, and told his former teammate what to expect.
"It wasn't really anything new," Lee said. "He just told me to work hard all the time. He said the coaches look at everything, whether you run between the drills, whether you take plays off -- things like that. You've got to do the job on the field, of course, but you've also got to show them how hard you're willing to work. I came here knowing I had to go as hard as I can, and I did. I went full-speed and tried to soak everything in.
"Now it's up to the coaches."
D.D. Lee: Badge of Courage
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