FORT WORTH, Texas – First time Jon Lee touched the football for the Air Force Academy, he raced 49 yards to a touchdown. Granted, this was against a less-than-mighty collection of talent from Tennessee State, but the run promised big things from a rapid, rugged and ambitious back.
The promise is still pending.
As Lee heads toward the end of his sophomore season and Saturday’s Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl clash with Rice, he remains the Falcons' best promise for tomorrow. He’s enjoyed a solid season as backup halfback behind Cody Getz, gaining 543 yards at 6.2 yards per carry.
But you get the sense more – much more – could be ahead for Lee.
Lee is from suburban Atlanta, and appears ready to continue the line of Georgia running backs who have carried the Falcons to wins in the Troy Calhoun era.
Chad Hall, Asher Clark, Getz and Lee all grew up within a few miles of each other. They played youth league games on the same field. Hall, Clark and Getz became three of the best runners in Air Force’s football history.
Lee is one of the faster players in recent Air Force history, and he runs, according to center Jordan Eason, with a rage in his gut, looking for defenders to run over.
“Jon has a lot of potential,” Eason said. “He runs hard, runs with a chip on his shoulder. He’s tenacious and aggressive.”
Lee competed as a power lifter in high school. He’s not the type to seek out the sideline.
His courage is admirable, even if it sometimes gets him in trouble. Lee has struggled, like the rest of his offensive comrades, with fumbles this season. These struggles have sometimes placed him in Calhoun’s house of disfavor.
He’s optimistic about his struggles to hang on to the ball. He’s convinced better preparation will make him more reliable, and he has history on his side. Hall’s ball-handling struggles limited him for much of his Air Force career, but he emerged as a careful, lethal runner in his senior season.
Lee already is planning for next season. When I approached him recently, he was staring into the distance, deep in thought.
“Always thinking,” Lee said. “I’m always thinking.”
Much of that thinking has to do with a bigger frame. He played this season at 190 pounds. He plans to add 20 pounds to his frame.
He plans to retain his speed. He sees a fast, mighty back busting through massive defenders on the line and then outrunning the little guys to the end zone.
“I want to bring more power,” Lee said. “We’re known for being elusive and fast, but I want to give it the extra diversity of being a power back. I want to pound away at them.”
His teammates believe in his plans.
First time senior linebacker Alex Means saw Lee he tagged him with a nickname. He called him “The Truth,” and the name stuck.
“His time will come and when it does, he’s going to be one hell of a running back,” Means said.
Lee is not scheduled to start against Rice. He will watch from the sideline as Getz trots out for his final game as Air Force’s lead running back.
“It’s bittersweet,” Lee said. He considers Getz a close friend and a mentor. He will, in many ways, be sorry to see Getz depart.
But he realizes his chance for stardom is just ahead. Lee arrived at the academy with all the tools required for a superlative career. In two seasons spent waiting and watching, he’s added the gift of patience.
His wait is almost over.
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