Generally, Northwest running back Chris Lee tries to keep his two passions separate.
However a day after piling up a season-high 314 yards and three touchdowns to keep Northwest’s season alive in a 20-18 playoff win over Peabody, Lee was off for the weekend doing what he’s done for the last 14 years of his life.
“I went to the rodeo and finished second,” said Lee, whose No. 7 team hosts No. 10 Marksville in a Class 3A state regional playoff game Friday. “I do both, but usually not during football.”
Lee’s appearance at a local rodeo wasn’t as a spectator but as a participant. He took part in an event that’s been handed down two generations in his family — calf-roping where he’s excelled since a young age.
“My grandfather (Donald Lee Sr.) showed my dad and he took it a step farther,” Lee said. “I was raised around calf-roping, not football. My dad showed us (including his older brother) how to rope. I’ve roped my entire life.”
Lee said he’s distinguished himself in amateur competitions, winning a collection of trophies, belt buckles and saddles in states ranging from Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri.
Northwest coach Chris Edwards was at Lawtell Elementary in St. Landry Parish when he first crossed paths with Lee, who as a fifth grader started on the school’s eighth-grade team.
Lee has seen his star rise ever since, joining forces again with Edwards two years ago. The Raiders (9-2) have reached the state playoffs in both seasons.
The focal point of the team’s success has been Lee, a sturdily built 5-foot-8, 205-pounder, that’s enjoyed three straight seasons of more than 1,000 yards and has rushed for more than 5,200 yards during his career.
“Once he sees the hole, he explodes through it,” Edwards said. “When you’re flipping calves like he has, normal-sized humans are not much of a challenge to him. It’s amazing how strong he is along with his speed and quickness.”
Last week’s heroic performance enabled Lee to break his own school single-season rushing record, boosting his totals to 191 carries for 1,790 yards and 23 touchdowns in eight games.
Northwest’s was on the brink of elimination, trailing 18-0 with just under three minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Lee’s used to answering the bell, capitalizing on the speed of his own horse — either 7-year-old Willie or 12-year-old Diesel — along with his accuracy. His objective is to be able to dismount, flip a 220- to 250-pound calf, tie at least three of its legs together against time.
“You have to think fast,” Lee said. “If the calf makes a certain move, you have to be in the right spot to tie him down as fast as you can. On the football field, you have to read blocks, hit the hole and do what you have to do to get in the end zone.”
Lee scored on a 20-yard run in the third quarter and after Terrel Guillory’s 36-yard completion to Dylan Guillory, he made it 18-12 with a 2-yard run.
The comeback was complete with 1:04 left when Lee, who also recorded 12 tackles and a sack at middle linebacker, scored from 5 yards out and threw a two-point conversion to Matthew Angelle to secure Northwest’s first home regional playoff game.
“It’s in my heart to do both,” said Lee, who is receiving college interest from Tyler and Blinn Junior Colleges in Texas and Northeast Community College in Mississippi. “I’ll see how far I can make it in football. If I get my degree and can’t go to the NFL, I’ll fall back on rodeo. I can work somewhere and have a good life.”