Chris Lamothe, Tulane quarterback Tanner Lee’s position coach back at Jesuit High School, used to teach him that “the quickest way to learn is from messing up.”
If so, that means Lee learned a ton last season.
As a redshirt freshman, Lee finished 10th in the 11-team American Athletic Conference in quarterback rating with 14 interceptions vs. only 12 touchdowns — 4 vs. 0 in the Green Wave’s last three games — all losses which reduced the final record to 3-9, 2-8 with Lee starting.
But despite the availability of two other players with starting experience, Lee never asked to be relieved and Tulane coach Curtis Johnson never took him out, figuring that the experience was worth more than any potential damage to Lee’s psyche or his health.
Whether Lee’s hard knocks of 2014 pay off in 2015 will begin to manifest itself a week from now when the Wave opens against Duke at Yulman Stadium.
“I feel like the pressure and responsibility on me is the same as it was last year,” Lee said after practice Wednesday. “But my confidence level is like night and day.
“I just see everything more clearly and I can run the play 100 times better than I did last year. I’m bringing everything positive to the table, which makes everybody around me more comfortable.”
Physically, Lee has worked on his footwork, especially in dropping back. Mentally, it’s been concentrating on good decision-making, going through his reads quicker but without forcing the throws.
That would be a major improvement. Last season, many of Lee’s passes were painfully telegraphed and were turned into pick-sixes, two in the 38-7 loss to Memphis which clinched a losing season.
“Tanner’s letting the offense come to him more,” offensive coordinator Eric Price said. “And we’re taking a little pressure off of him.
“He’s spent hours watching film since the end of spring practice, and he made some really good plays during training camp. We feel like he’s ready.”
Lee didn’t limit his learning experiences either. He was a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy, where he soaked up all he could from Peyton and Eli along with his 40 fellow Division I quarterbacks. And he spends all of the time he can with former Tulane quarterback Ryan Griffin of the Saints.
Lee didn’t limit his extra time to himself as well. He regularly badgered the Wave’s backs and receivers into coming to spontaneous workout sessions.
It’s all, as Lee sees it, part of being a quarterback, That’s the only position he’s ever played, dating to flag football and St. Charles Borromeo Elementary in Destrehan.
“At Jesuit, it was always instilled in me that I’ve got to be the leader of the team, learning everybody else’s assignments, being the most disciplined person and never forgetting that everyone else is looking to you,” he said. “It sort of comes naturally with playing the position, too.
“It’s never hit me as some kind of foreign thing.”
That was in high school, though, where the pressure on the quarterback both to lead and to be the key to the team’s success isn’t quite so heavy or so public.
At Tulane, which Lee chose after Johnson’s offer was the first he received, he’s being expected to lift his hometown university, one whose success in this century has been limited (3.9 victories per season), one who is fighting to regain local attention, especially after last season, and one whose potential for success this season rests largely on getting improved quarterback play.
With the glaring exception of place-kicker, all of the other elements needed for the Wave to be at least competitive are in place.
That’s why so much is riding on Lee.
Frankly, Tulane cannot afford to go 3-9 again without negative ramifications for the program. Lee admits he doesn’t relish the prospect of facing two more years of rebuilding.
But that bit of negativity passes quickly.
“Every quarterback in the country is expected to carry his team to a winning situation,” he said. “I’m blessed to have the unbelievable opportunity to play in front of my friends and family, which is something I cherish every day.
“Winning burns at me, which is why I’ve put in all of the extra work. But I also want to win for my team, my coaches, my school and my family.”
That would be nice.
But from the outside, at least, the expectation level for Tulane is about what it usually is.
The Wave will open as double-digit underdogs at home against a team that beat it 47-13 last season. Tulane is picked fifth in the AAC West.
Lee isn’t deterred.
“We expect to win every game,” he said. “I haven’t heard anybody on this team who says they look at any team we play and thinks we have no shot at them.”
So will the Wave start the season by shocking the college football world?
“That’s the plan,” Lee said. “We’ll be shocking everybody but ourselves.”
Sounds like confidence is something else they teach you at Jesuit.
And in Tanner Lee’s case, he’s going to need it.