Howard middle linebacker Mac Lee is a thinking man's football player. A student of the game, the senior who wants to become a doctor enjoys the mental challenge of the game as much as the physical one. He likes to dissect every play and estimates he spends four hours a week outside of Lions' film sessions studying on his own.
This fall, he has 22 solo tackles, 20 assisted tackles and three sacks for the Lions (4-2), who slipped into a third-place tie in the Howard County league after Friday's 13-6 upset loss to Reservoir.
The 5 foot 9, 180-pound Lee has drawn attention from Division III programs McDaniel and Randolph Macon and has visited both. Planning to major in molecular biology, Lee, who has a 3.4 GPA, wants to conduct medical research and eventually go to medical school to study neurology or cardiology.
Have you always been a linebacker?
No. I actually played offensive and defensive line until last year. They saw that we had little depth at linebacker and they moved me to play middle.
Were you happy about that?
I was very happy. Linebacker's exciting and I like to think and break down things. It helps me to be able to look at the offense and see that this formation shows this and they're running this play — the analytical thinking playing linebacker.
Are you the guy who calls the plays?
Coach calls them in and I adjust the defense and call the strengths and help them align.
What's the biggest challenge of playing the middle linebacker position?
From a week to week basis, it's breaking down each individual team and predicting what's coming next. In situational, like a third down, [on] third-and-short, they could run or they could come across the middle. Third-and-long is most likely a pass, but you have to be watching for a draw or short things like that. It's predicting what could come next based on the formation they're in. That's the most difficult part.
Do you enjoy film study?
I love studying film. Hudl, [video software designed for film study] that everyone in the county has, is a great resource. It breaks it down. You can slow motion. That really helps for getting what my keys are going to be for the week and the formation, seeing what they run before we see them on the field. There's an app for it, so I can watch it when I'm sitting in bed about to go to sleep.
Can you overthink things in football?
Absolutely. Sometimes, I'll be thinking maybe this play's coming or that play's coming, but I'm not sure. I'll sometimes guess and guess wrong, because I'm overthinking what could possibly come. Early in the game isn't usually that bad because they come out with the things you saw on film, and you get used to that, so early in the third quarter is when I sometimes get caught thinking too much — what could they have adjusted at halftime? But then I see that either they haven't adjusted or the adjustment that I thought they were going to make was made.
How has your role on the field changed as a senior?
Especially with a young team like we have — we have a whole new defensive line and new defensive backs except for John Travisano — I feel that I need to be more of a leader, and I enjoy that. I love being out there and not instructing but helping other guys know what they need to do, and helping them be successful. Being a senior has definitely changed my role to being a leader.
Are you superstitious?
I'm a little superstitious in terms of the order we get our wrists taped before every game for stabilization. It goes Neil Caruso and then Eric Martinez, then me. We didn't do that last week, and you saw what happened. I always try to wear the same thing. I wore an arm sleeve early in the season and then they made us take them off. Then I had good games against Hebron and Glenelg and then Reservoir so I haven't worn it since.
How did you get interested in molecular biology?
My dad is a big influence on me, and he is very into science. When I took biology my freshman year, we'd be riding to rec baseball games or rec football games and we'd talk about why our nose runs or why scars form on our skin. I enjoyed talking about those things, because as I said, I'm a thinker and I like to think about why things happen.
Is there a pro player you admire and model your game after?
Ray Lewis is a big role model for me at the linebacker position, but a player I like to watch and model my game on is Terrell Suggs. That's why I wear 55, because he plays like he loves the game. He plays with reckless abandon and he doesn't care, he just goes out there and plays football.
What's the best advice you've put to use this season?
It's probably play like every play is your last, because we've seen teammates go down. Brady Curly tore his ACL two years in a row. He tore his ACL on the first play of his junior year and then he got through one game last year and tore the other one in the second game. Playing every play like it's my last is very important to me.