"And I've been waiting for this moment for all my life, oh Lord."
Everyone knows the song "In The Air Tonight" by Phil Collins. Even if they don't know the name of the song right off the bat -- which would be sort of funny since Collins says it a bunch, but whatever -- they would certainly know the song if you played it for them. The lyrics are pretty simple. In fact, the words themselves are pretty repetitive. And the beat isn't all that complex, even when the song really starts to open up. So why is the song so popular?
It's the build up.
The song starts very soft. A soft bongo beat leads into long held-out strums of an electric guitar in the distance. Those melodic chords lead you to keys on an electric keyboard to set the mood as the chorus begins. The words spoken softly give you an echo-y feel to really put you in the right mindset. You have little sirens and guitar strums throughout the opening verse that get held out for a short amount of time with crescendos that really draw you in. And then when everything gets sucked in and goes silent for a second, you're completely captivated.
Enter the first verse. Words that seem like a cry out to loved one. You feel the power in Colins' voice as he reminisces of times that can't be forgotten. It's a verse of pain and emotion, of silence for too long, of holding in what he's really feeling. Finally, he can't take it anymore, he has to let it out, he's waited for his entire life for this -- this moment. And then.
*in the sound of drums* "DO-DO, DO-DO, DO-DO, DO-DO-DO-DO."
YOU LOSE YOUR FREAKING MIND.
Not every college football player sees their story start off at stardom right away. For some, it's about the emotional ride that gets them there -- it's about the build up. It's a moment they wait for their whole life to achieve. Such was the case for Nebraska safety Eric Lee Jr.
It was more than five years ago when Lee Jr. told Bo Pelini he'd play ball at the University of Nebraska. Since then, Pelini has gone, Mike Riley has come and gone, and Scott Frost wasn't sure Lee would even be a guy he would play in a starting role.
Lee Jr. is a fifth year senior. As a freshman, he was one of the low men on the depth chart. As a sophomore he saw a bit more playing time in a versatile role as both a cornerback and a safety, but then for his junior year he was once again overlooked and barely saw the field. After starting in six games as a sophomore, Lee started just one game as a junior, and it was at cornerback. When Frost arrived in 2018, he wasn't Lee Jr.'s biggest supporter, and Lee found himself in the doghouse and as a backup safety going into his final year of college football.
Things once again looked like they weren't going Lee Jr.'s way.
But life and football have a funny way of using timing to tell some cool stories. In the Huskers' opening game in 2019 against South Alabama, starting junior safety Deontai Williams went off the field due to injury, and when he did, that opened the door for Lee Jr.
Lee Jr. didn't just open that door gently, he kicked it wide open. Shortly after coming in, Lee Jr. picked a pass off for the first time in his Huskers career, and even took it back to the house. By the time the game was over, Lee Jr. recorded four tackles, a a pass break up and a second interception in the fourth quarter.
Since then it seems like Lee Jr. has been as good as any. Through the first five weeks of the season, he was Pro Football Focus' highest-graded safety in the country with an overall grade of 90.1. PFF had Lee with a 90.5 coverage grade over that time, which is the highest they've graded a safety in coverage since Derwin James.
It's been a long journey for Lee Jr. to get to this point. He's waited for it all his life. But now it seems like he's able to show what he is capable of. Here's what that looks like.
Play No. 1: Corner Background
You may look at the play above and think two things. The first is probably: why are you showing me a clip of Lee Jr. getting beat as your first clip? And the second is likely: I thought you said Lee Jr. played safety.
I'll answer both at the same time.
As stated before, it has been a long football journey for Lee Jr.. He has been moved around to try to find a spot that gave him the best chance to get on the field throughout his five years at Nebraska. During his junior season, where he was able to get on the field was at cornerback. He looked a little odd out there on the boundary as a 6-foot, 215 pound cornerback, and that showed up on tape. But even though he was slower than an actual corner should be, what I really liked in the clip above was how smooth he looked when backpedalling and when flipping his hips. Was it enough to keep up with his receiver while playing as a corner? No, but it does lead us into the next play.
Play No. 2: Fluid On Back End
Where Lee Jr. may not be athletic enough to play corner, his experience there makes him an above average player when playing deep in coverage on the back end as a safety. He doesn't have the best top speed, but he is able to flip his hips quickly in coverage. That gives him the time to react further off the ball and makes him a difference maker.
Lee Jr. may not have been up to the task to cover as a cornerback, but he's certainly well above average as a free safe now.
Play No. 3: Lack of Play Time Can Show
There is a downfall to playing multiple position as a "homeless" defensive back, though, and that is that Lee Jr. just does not have the chemistry and the feel for playing safety. I think he anticipates things well, but when it comes to communication, especially in zone coverage, as seen above, you'll sometimes see lapses in Lee Jr.'s production with his fellow defenders.
I am hoping this improves with more reps, because that is a very important part of playing on the back end.
Play No. 4: Reliable Last Line
Speaking of the back end, I think that Lee Jr. is a reliable last line of defense. In today's game, defensive coordinators like to get creative with safeties in coverage, putting them in all sorts of different roles. But at the end of the day safeties still need to be reliable as the final man in between a ball carrier and the end zone. I think Lee Jr. has good instincts to float to where the ball is going, close and make stops.
Play No. 5: Patience To Production
It has taken Lee Jr. some time to get to a point where he can showcase his skills, but now that he is there he is making an impact as a safety. His first interception of his career against South Alabama was good evidence towards the fact that all that time on the sidelines and learning from those around him didn't go to waste. That play above was a recognition play, one that Lee Jr. performed beautifully.
To that point, it was the best play Lee Jr.had made in his football career, and after the game it had him thinking about everything he went through to get to that moment to make it -- and how he planned on that big play play not being his last.
“Since I committed here back in 2014, being able to finally reach this day and make the plays I’m capable of out on the field, to showcase it on this level." Lee Jr. said. "I’ve been waiting for that my whole life."