They say you have to crawl before you can walk. But they never met Dillon Lee.
While other babies struggled to slowly propel themselves forward on hands and knees, Lee, a senior linebacker at Buford High, was running by the time he was six months old.
“He’s always been able to run,” Dillon’s dad, Robert, said. “He never crawled. He would run until he fell asleep in the middle of whatever he was doing. Been that way his whole life.”
Only a little has changed since then.
Small arms and legs have been replaced by an imposing 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame, his pacifier has been replaced by a mouthpiece and he spends most of his time wearing a helmet and shoulder pads.
But still, he runs. Fast.
So fast in fact that Wolves coach Jess Simpson considers Lee one of the best all-around athletes he’s ever coached.
This coming from a coach who has turned out quite a few.
“His size and speed mixed together are probably his best traits,” Simpson said. “You just don’t see that many guys like that — he’s 6-4, probably 230-plus, and he runs like your fastest skill guy.”
The defending Class AA state champion Wolves open the regular season against Blessed Trinity at 7:30 Friday in Roswell.
This season, Lee will apply this physical prowess one last time for Buford, a four-time defending state champion.
In his final season at the school, he will attempt to add to an already long list of accolades. He is a four-star recruit by Scout.com, which has him as the No. 6 overall middle linebacker prospect, and has already committed to play at the University of Alabama under head coach Nick Saban.
But for his final season in high school, only one thing matters to him.
“Win state,” Lee said. “I want to help make Buford 15-0.”
This is the type of player he is.
As one of the state’s top recruits, Lee has constantly been bombarded with opportunities to participate in extra activities like scouting combines, camps or recruiting trips across the country.
“It’s amazing how much we’ve been bombarded with this stuff,” Simpson said.
But despite these opportunities, Lee’s focus has remained on his current team.
“The biggest thing is that — like most of our seniors — he hasn’t missed Buford stuff to do other stuff,” Simpson said. “I think that’s where you start — kids being here and doing what they’re supposed to be doing, making their workouts.
Because they could be doing that other stuff all the time.”
Speaking to the point, Lee had only a few words to describe this mentality as a player.
“I’m a disciplined player on the field,” he said, “and I do what my coaches tell me.”
But while he may have been blessed with a number of physical attributes that have helped him compete at the level he does today, it’s not as if Lee woke up one morning as the best linebacker in the state.
He started playing football as a 6-year-old. His older brother, Dallas, now an offensive lineman at the University of Georgia, began playing when he was 8 or 9. Their parents found it difficult to keep Dillon from playing as well.
“He knew about football and had to start playing as soon as he could,” Robert Lee said. “I think he wanted to do what his big brother was doing.”
Even though he wasn’t totally focused on football from the start, it wasn’t long before it became an obsession.
It was his freshman year at Buford, according to Robert, that he really fell in love with the sport. Buford was in the midst of a run to a state championship and Dallas was having an impressive senior season.
Dillon didn’t see the field during that particular title run. Instead he spent most of his time on the scout team getting hit by players older and bigger than he was.
But it was that taste of success that helped push him over the next two years.
“He’s very driven,” his father said. “When he decides he wants to do something, he has the ability to give it his all — and then some.”
And he has.
According to Simpson, he is a guy that is constantly working to improve himself, both physically and mentally.
“He’s a fullspeed guy,” Simpson said. “On the field, he’s wide open. He plays hard and he plays fast. You walk in the weight room in first period, and he’s in there getting after it pretty good.
“He’s one of those kids, I think, that has worked out most weekends in high school and really enjoys it.”
Lee said that his success comes from a mixture of natural ability and hard work.
“Yeah, it’s a little of both,” he said as he prepared for practice. “I was blessed with athletic ability, but I put in a lot of time in the offseason to get stronger. And then, after that, it just comes down to doing what my coaches tell me to do.”
So far, that’s been a winning formula.
Every high school team he’s been a part of has won a state title and in 2012, he will walk into one of the most dominating college football programs in the country.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said.
Until then, however, he’ll focus on getting his fourth consecutive championship.
“That’s what I’m here for,” he said. “That’s what we want to do.”