Lee stays put, moves FSU

By GARY SHELTON, Times Staff Writer
Published September 30, 2007

JACKSONVILLE - The new face of the FSU offense stood in the bright lights, the glow of the game pouring over him.

Finally, Xavier Lee was a player again.

The wait had been so long, and the watching so hard. There had been so many voices with so many suggestions of where else he should go to play. There were so many frustrations. There were times he wondered if such a night would ever belong to him again.

On Saturday night, it did.

Lee stood on the sideline, his arms folded, his chin regal as he gazed toward a field that seemed, again, to belong to him. There were two minutes to go in FSU's 21-14 win over Alabama, but already, teammates approached him. Some shook his hand. Some bumped his shoulder pads. It was as if the moment had turned into a coronation.

As of now, the FSU huddle belongs to Lee. Again.

As of now, the FSU season is in his hands. Again.

For now, he is the Seminoles' quarterback. Oh, coach Bobby Bowden wouldn't say it out loud after the game, but even he knows it. For FSU, there is no other choice. This is Lee's time. For now, this is Lee's team.

From the moment Lee entered late in the second quarter, everything changed. In the second half, Lee hit 11 of 18 for 221 yards and two touchdowns. He ran eight times for 44 yards.

Lee's impact, however, was larger than numbers. It was as if someone found the plug to the FSU offense and re-inserted into the socket. Players seemed to fight a little harder for yardage and jump off the ground a little quicker. Pass patterns went a little deeper. Teammates looked a little more dangerous.

This is what a playmaker can do for an offense that has been running on empty for most of the season. He can give it energy. He can give it hope.

Who knew? He can give it touchdowns.

For most of this season, the FSU offense has run in place. There have been times when 2 yards seemed like an awful long way to travel, when the end zone seemed out of the question. Lee changed that, too.

"He gave us a lift," Bowden said. "He did what we've always wanted him to do. He gave us some mobility at quarterback. In my opinion, he was the offensive hero of the game."

Ah, but now comes the money question.

This time, how long does Lee's success last?

Lee had highlights last year. In three starts, he was superb against Maryland, pretty good against Virginia and dismal against Wake Forest. There were times he played wonderful-Lee and times he played terrible-Lee. He was up and down like a heart monitor, and his inconsistency spread through the huddle along the same path of his electricity.

In other words, last year, Lee was the wrong quarterback.

This year, he is the right one.

Here is the reasoning: If FSU had uncatchable receivers and unstoppable running backs, if there were so many weapons in the huddle that you feared the scoreboard would explode, then Drew Weatherford would be a perfect quarterback. He is smart, he is passionate, and he protects the ball fiercely.

But this team needs a quarterback who can produce big plays, not just avoid bad ones. It needs someone who doesn't mind flinging the ball downfield to Greg Carr. It needs someone who vaults his own running back and passes in mid-air. It needs someone who drops back, finds a blitzing linebacker in his passing lane, then tucks the ball under his arm and runs for 11.

Right now, it needs Lee.

Yes, if last year was an indication, there will be turbulent moments. Consider the third quarter, when Lee had completed seven straight balls before tossing one to the safety near the Alabama goal line. Right now, however, FSU needs to discover whether Lee's assets outweigh his negatives as completely as they did against Alabama.

Besides, there is something to be said for a kid who waits out his opportunity, then goes back to the bench and waits out his second one. Even Lee's father wanted him to transfer in the offseason.

"I always knew my opportunity here would probably come," Lee said. "I had people in my ear saying I should leave, I should go here. "They're not going to give you a shot and you are wasting away.' But I kept working hard."

Said Bowden: "It had to be tough for him. I've been through this before with Brad Johnson and Casey (Weldon). The popular thing would have been for him to take off. But he had persistence, and I'm sure it's going to pay dividends for him."

For Lee, this seems like the place to start.

For Bowden, this seems like the player to start.

For FSU, there is a reason to enter the rest of the season hopeful-Lee.