Leaning back in his chair one afternoon, Phoebus coach Stan Sexton allows himself to consider the alternative. What if, he ponders, tailback Tyree Lee averaged 25 carries a game? Can you imagine?
"He might be closing in on 3,000 yards right now," Sexton said. "It's unreal to think where he might be."
What's unreal is that despite averaging only 17 carries a night, Lee has rushed for 2,188 yards going into Saturday's Group AAA Division 5 semifinal at Dinwiddie. That's more than any Peninsula District tailback in history except former Phantom Elan Lewis, who ran for 2,474 yards in 2003 and 2,313 in '04.
But unlike Lewis, and unlike most of Phoebus' star runners of the past, Lee plays both ways. He's the Phantoms' starting free safety, and he's every bit as valuable there as he is in the backfield.
Which leads to, as defensive coordinator Greg Narvid puts it, "a delicate balance." How does Phoebus make sure to keep Lee fresh on both sides of the ball? Does he rest on offense or defense?
"Coach Narvid and I always argue about that," running backs coach James Holbert said. "He needs him as much on defense as we need him on offense. We try to limit his carries to no more than 15 a game. And, of course, the last game, that went right out the window."
In last week's 12-7 win over Hampton in the Eastern Region final, Lee rushed for 156 yards on a career-high 32 carries. That came a week after gaining 301 yards on 23 attempts against Great Bridge.
Yet during the regular season, Lee averaged 14.6 carries a game. His high was 24 (for 201 yards) against Kecoughtan. He had 13 or fewer attempts in four games, including an 11-carry, 316-yard night against Denbigh.
Lee is averaging 10 yards a carry, so he's making the most of his chances. Like any back, he'd love more touches. But he also understands his value on the other side of the ball.
"Probably not," he said about carrying 25 times a night. "I'd be exhausted."
Like he was last Saturday morning. Not only did he have the 32 carries, and not only did he get popped hard several times (which led to an uncharacteristic two fumbles), he also went most of the way on defense.
"My body was sore, but I'm ready for Dinwiddie," he said. "The (coaches) get me rest when they can. If I'm on offense and we have a good, long drive, I'll probably sit out the first series on defense. They try to limit my carries so I can get more reps on defense."
Lee also returns kickoffs (three for touchdowns) and punts. So, yes, he's a busy man.
Given his size, you wonder how he handles it. Lee stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 185 pounds, not nearly as big as predecessors like Shawne Alston and Lewis. But Lee has a level of toughness most don't expect.
"He's a physical runner," Holbert said. "He may only weigh 185 pounds, but when he hits you, he feels like he weighs 230."
Lee believes some of that might come from playing defense.
"It gives me more conditioning and stamina," he said. "And it probably makes me tougher because I'm hitting them on defense."
Though his speed makes him particularly effective on the edge, Lee gets most of his yards — like all Phoebus runners — between the tackles. Hampton coach Mike Smith likes the way Lee uses his blockers.
"He has such great vision with cutting back and hitting the alleys," he said. "He finds creases as well as anybody I've seen around here in a long time."
After coming into the season with little recruiting buzz, Lee has put himself on the radar. He said East Carolina is interested, and he just spoke with Virginia coach Mike London in person the other day. Old Dominion also likes him, but the Monarchs won't have a large number of scholarships to offer this year.
"We've sent a lot of tape out," Sexton said. "And as this week and hopefully next week unfolds, I think we'll see a lot more interest."
Lee admits he didn't expect this kind of season. But now that he's had it, he wants more. He's 287 yards shy of breaking Lewis' district record. If he maintains his average and plays two more games, he'll get it.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun