Columbus-area high school football fans grew accustomed to seeing Darron Lee make highlight-reel plays like Saturday's 61-yard fumble return for a touchdown against Navy on a regular basis during his playing days at nearby New Albany High School.
But a lot of those came on the offensive side of the ball for Lee, who was a standout quarterback for the Eagles as he helped guide them to an appearance in the Division II state semifinals as a senior.
When Lee came to Ohio State, however, he wasn't recruited as a quarterback. In fact, he didn't really have a true position.
But after redshirting as a true freshman last season, Lee has found a home at outside linebacker and he announced his presence to the college football world when he picked the ball up off the turf after Joey Bosa forced a fumble and took it 61 yards to the house to give fifth-ranked Ohio State a brief 13-7 advantage over the Midshipmen.
“I saw Joey shed a block and then attack the quarterback and then it’s just job assignment, really," Lee said of his touchdown. "Just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.”
Starting his first ever game for the Buckeyes, Lee recorded eight tackles against Navy's triple-option offense and was one of three Ohio State defensive players to earn a "champion" grade from head coach Urban Meyer.
But even Meyer admits he didn't see Lee's performance coming just a few months ago.
"He's a guy that is a product of offseason program met drills," Meyer said. "One of our tougher guys on defense that throws it around. He's been practicing like that since spring ball. Kind of came out of nowhere. Didn't expect that in spring practice."
Toughness and hard work seem to be trademark traits of Lee, who was rated as a three-star prospect in high school by most major recruiting sites.
“I just like to compete. It doesn’t matter who has how many stars, I don’t care about that. I was just gonna come here and compete," Lee said. "Coach Meyer recruited me because I’m a competitor and that’s really it. Honestly, I just go out and work my tail off.”
His teammates have taken notice, as well.
“Darron’s a really hard-working and aggressive guy. He’s not just gonna sit around and let people just come in and play if he thinks that he can do something," fellow linebacker Joshua Perry said. "He worked extremely hard in the offseason to put on the weight that the coaches wanted him to. He took a lot of time in the film room, also. I think it was a humbling experience for him to sit back and watch for a year when he was a guy who was a star player at his high school so I think that also helped with his maturity and his development."
Lee was a two-way player in high school, who played mostly safety on defense. Most of his plays, however, were made as a quarterback.
Now listed as 6-foot-2, 228 pounds and on the other side of the ball for the foreseeable future, Lee said it's nice getting to dish out the hits — like the one he delivered on Keenan Reynolds on Saturday — as opposed to getting hit.
“It feels good to really get a nice shot on somebody when you’re out there on defense," he said.