Darron Lee has never been one who has needed any additional fuel to his fire. There's always been plenty of that to go around for Ohio State's star linebacker.
"I'll always have that chip on my shoulder," he says.
A lot of it started back during Lee's playing days at New Albany High School, located just outside of Columbus. As a former three-star recruit who was ranked as just the 36th overall prospect in the state of Ohio in the 2013 class, according to 247Sports, Lee was overlooked by a lot of the top programs in college football.
Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer said Lee camped at Ohio State "five or six times" — Lee says he only camped twice — hoping to earn an offer from his hometown school. But during his time at those camps, Meyer rarely even looked at Lee, who was listed at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds in high school where he played quarterback. It was actually Buckeyes co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell who finally convinced Meyer to offer Lee a scholarship.
“The chip always remains the same, especially for the defense. We always feel we’re the best defense so we’ve gotta go out and try and prove that.”– Darron Lee
Lee had to prove himself in order to get his scholarship offer to Ohio State and, once there, he had to prove he was good enough to find some playing time, despite not having a natural position.
But when he finally got on the field last year for the Buckeyes as a redshirt freshman linebacker, boy did he ever prove himself. Not only was Lee one of Ohio State's top playmakers on defense — he was third on the team in tackles (81) and second in sacks (7.5) and tackles for loss (16.5) — but he turned himself into a preseason All-American in 2015 and a potential first-round NFL Draft pick.
With all of those accomplishments in just one season at linebacker, having already proved himself for a full year, Lee said nothing has changed with fall camp this season.
“No different, it’s the same thing," Lee said. "I’m sure everybody had expectations last year, or even doubt to be honest with you — I don’t know if you can do this or that or whatever. But it’s the same, I’m the same guy. Nothing’s different for me.”
Lee's success is especially rewarding for Fickell, who had to plead with Meyer to extend an offer a few years back.
"Obviously, it’s great when those things pan out and you see a kid mature and kind of grow up in front of your own eyes and sense what you see on the football field, but then off the football field, as well," Fickell said. "The great thing is he’s a great team guy, too, he loves his teammates around him, he does a great job of helping those guys and motivating those guys and I think that’s one of the big things that you’re going to hear our guys all talk about all season."
He's one of college football's best defensive players on the No. 1 team in the country. But Lee often finds himself with something to prove.
Perhaps that's part of what makes Lee so great, though. He's always trying to find something, anything to gain an advantage.
“The chip always remains the same, especially for the defense," Lee said. "We always feel we’re the best defense so we’ve gotta go out and try and prove that.”