Vad Lee: The Comeback
It will be remembered as the pinnacle of the Vad Lee era.
With 35 seconds to go, Lee threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to John Miller lifting Madison to a 48-45 win over Southern Methodist University. It marked the first time JMU beat a Football Bowl Subdivision team since its 21-16 win over Virginia Tech in 2010.
“The play call was
and that's our signal for it,” said Lee as he makes the money sign made famous by Johnny Manziel. “It's fitting for us winning that game.”
In the win, Lee tallied a school-record 565 total yards and five touchdowns, hurling him and the Dukes into the national spotlight.
“I believe every great player has that defining moment or play. I think about Michael Jordan and I think about the cross-over,” he added. “I think that was one of my plays. “
Three weeks later, the Dukes were still undefeated and ranked fourth in the country when ESPN's College GameDay came to town, shining a light on the program like never before.
“It was more than just about football,” he said. “We were able to show off our community, and show off our school. And now we're in the national spotlight and people know where James Madison is.”
“I'd say there was an added amount of pressure with the spotlight being here, but Vad never made it about Vad,” added former teammate Deane Cheatham. “It was always about us. Always about the team.”
JMU faced No. 11 Richmond that night.
It was Homecoming. A night when Lee learned a valuable lesson. At the height of college football, with national championship aspirations in the air, he saw just how quickly the fall can come.
Down two scores in the fourth quarter, Lee was tackled awkwardly. He stayed in a few more downs before checking out, never to play college football again.
“The biggest down moment I would say was seeing my teammates search for answers, or seeing them hurt,” Lee said. “I can handle me. I can take care of myself. I'm a big boy. But I really wanted to be there for my teammates. I really wanted to be the one to make that play and be the one to bring us back. So, seeing us lose, was rough.”
A Lisfranc fracture brought the Vad Lee era to an abrupt end. His 51 passing touchdowns in just 21 games tied the school record for most in a career.
“Vad was upset, you could tell he was hurt and heartbroken with the injury, but he has never let that come between him and being apart of the team, and a leader on the team,” Cheatham added.
For the rest of the year, Lee continued his role as a captain. Leading the team on the field, to midfield and in the locker room. But as the season faded in a playoff loss, he turned his attention to the next chapter – the NFL.
“It's truly amazing that I'm even in this position to go play in the NFL as a quarterback and accomplish my dreams that I've had since I was a little boy,” he said.
These days, Lee spends as much time rehabbing as he does training for the next level, hoping that he gets a phone call from a team looking for a mobile quarterback who is ready to shine.
He participated in both JMU's and Duke's Pro Days trying to prove that Lee isn't the same quarterback who lifted JMU to that win at SMU, but a better one.
“The team that gets me won't get the same Vad Lee from college,” he said. “They will get a more advanced, a more knowledgeable a more prolific quarterback.“