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LSU's Lee making most of second life

Jarrett Lee is on his second life as LSU’s quarterback.

That’s fitting, too, because he’s helped pump some life into a passing game that has run on embalming fluid for much of this season.

“You never know when your number’s going to be called,” Lee said. “The main thing is to be ready when it is called. This isn’t about redemption or anything else for me.

“It’s about making the most of this opportunity and helping this team win.”

LSU coach Les Miles said Jordan Jefferson would get the start in Saturday’s top-10 showdown with Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium. Nonetheless, Lee figures to play a prominent role. He’s emerged as LSU’s “passing” quarterback, and he’s going against an Auburn defense that hasn’t been able to stop the pass all season.

“We’re winning ballgames, so I trust whatever plan the coaches decide to go with,” said Lee, who’s been coming off the bench in relief of Jefferson the past three games. “My job is to perform whenever I’m in there.”

As much as any quarterback in the SEC, Lee may have the best perspective on the cold, hard facts of playing quarterback in this league.

When you’re on, they love you.

When you’re not, they can’t wait to replace you.

Lee, a fourth-year junior, was an afterthought back in the preseason. Jefferson was the returning starter, and the only Lee the LSU fans were talking about was hotshot signee Zach Lee.

Never mind the fact that most people in and around the LSU program felt like Jarrett Lee outplayed Jefferson for much of the spring.

“I’d made it this far and stuck it out this long,” Lee said. “I wasn’t going to turn and run. I knew I’d get another shot.”

Sure enough, the Los Angeles Dodgers made Zach Lee an offer he couldn’t refuse, and he left to go play baseball before the season ever began.

And then following the opener against North Carolina, the wheels came off for Jefferson. He failed to reach 100 yards passing in the next four games, while throwing five interceptions and no touchdown passes.

With LSU fighting for its life against Tennessee, Lee got the call he’d been waiting on ever since leaving the field as a redshirt freshman with boos ringing in his ears.

The Tigers needed him to come in and save them, and he did with a game-winning drive (and a little help from Tennessee and its 13 defenders on the field) to escape 16-14 against the Vols.

The next week, Lee was 9-of-11 passing against Florida with a pair of touchdown passes, including the game-winner to Terrence Toliver with six seconds left.

And then last week, Lee engineered four of LSU’s five scoring drives in the 32-10 win over McNeese State.

“Jarrett Lee is really improving,” Miles said. “He’ll have his chances. I promise you.”

That’s all Lee ever asked for, even though it looked like his legacy at LSU was already written in stone.

He was dubbed the “Pick-6 Kid” after throwing 16 interceptions and having seven of them returned for touchdowns as a redshirt freshman.

Lee started eight games during that forgettable 2008 season and admits now that he pretty much heard it all -- boos, insults, pleas for him to transfer, other things he cares not to share.

The truth is that he wasn’t ready to be an SEC quarterback. The year before as a true freshman, he’d been Bo Pelini’s scout team quarterback and was involved very little in what LSU’s offense was actually running.

But when Ryan Perrilloux was kicked off the team that next May, the last two quarterbacks standing were Harvard transfer Andrew Hatch and Lee. They split the duties the first few games, but then Hatch suffered a concussion.

Lee had to go it alone from there, and it wasn’t pretty.

“It was one of the worst things you can go through,” he said. “But it made me a better player and a better person. I don’t regret it at all. You’re going to have things happen to you in life, and it’s how you bounce back that matters.

“I wasn’t going to give up. I was going to keep fighting, keep working and keep improving. I came to LSU for a reason, and I was going to see it through.”

Lee leaned hard on his father during some of the darkest hours. The 2008 season was trying, but so was the 2009 season in a different way. He barely played at all, and when he did, it was mostly in mop-up roles.

It’s hard to get 16 interceptions out of your system when you're carrying a clipboard.

“The things I tried to get him to focus on were the things he could control,” said Lee’s father, Stephen Lee, who coached his son in high school in Brenham, Texas.

“The worst thing in the world is an opportunity missed, and that’s what I kept preaching to him. His time was going to come again, and he needed to be ready.”

Stephen Lee, who coaches the offense at Brenham High, concedes that merely sitting in the stands at Tiger Stadium during Lee’s freshman season was nauseating at times.

“You had to walk away at times,” Stephen Lee said. “When it’s one of your own they’re talking about, it’s different.

“But they say iron sharpens iron. Well, that’s what happened with Jarrett.”

The elder Lee still jokes with his son that he’s not in the Olympics.

“It’s not like you have to go perform every four years,” he quipped. “This is college football. It’s what have you done for me lately.

“Every time you step out there, you better be ready to perform.”

Lee, one of college football’s ultimate survivors, has proven that he will be ready.

He’s also proven that there is life after seven pick-six’s in one season.

“There were a lot of rough times for him, and I’m sure there were times when he did say, ‘Man, this isn’t what I signed up for,' ” Lee’s father said.

“But without those bad times, the good times might not be so good.”

These are definitely good times for Lee and the unbeaten Tigers.