When Vad Lee left Georgia Tech following the 2013 season, no reason or explanation seemed fully gratifying. Especially the one Lee himself gave.
"The triple-option was never really my thing," Lee said at the time.
Why then would the Durham, North Carolina, native, who was a highly sought recruit, commit to a run-first, run-second rebuild the Yellow Jackets were attempting under Paul Johnson? In 2013, Lee had his ups and downs, like many first-year starting quarterbacks in D1 football. There was little to suggest he was so unhappy with his system.
Rumors swirled that maybe Lee and Johnson just didn't get along; that Lee wanted to throw, and he didn't care where he did it.
Talking to Lee, this seems more true than not.
"Things just didn't work out like I thought it would," Lee told ESPN in September. "Of course I wanted to be able to show that I could pass the ball and run as well. I can remember a lot of times just going to my dorm room and just being alone, really in tears because I just felt so alone. I didn't have any family in Atlanta."
"I felt like nobody really understood me."
When Lee made the decision to leave Tech, one of the first people who heard about it was Everett Withers, who was still watching the ink dry on his deal to become head coach at James Madison University.
Withers had recruited Lee when he was coaching at North Carolina, so he knew Lee was a phenomenally adaptable high school product who could excel at any skill position. (In fact, selecting Lee for Two-Star Tuesday is a bit of a misnomer, as the 6-foot-2, 216-pounder was graded out as a four-star ESPN 150 athlete during his recruitment process. The spirit of his story, though, fits to the letter.)
When Withers pitched his offense to Lee -- "We want to play 100 miles per hour, with no seat belt, no hands," Withers told the Northern Virginia Daily -- the quarterback agreed to come aboard. Withers called it "a Christmas present."
If Lee's a gift, he's a generous one. Last year, in Lee's first year with the team, the Dukes set program records for total offense, passing yards, completions and passing TDs.
Through seven games this year, they have one of the best and most efficient offenses in college football, regardless of division, and Lee keeps pillaging the record books. In JMU's 48-45 upset win over SMU, he set single-game marks for total offense (565) and rushing yards (276, to which he added 275 passing yards). Against Towson, he went 24-for-32 with five passing touchdowns. Last week, JMU blew out Elon 51-0, the biggest margin of victory in program history. At the midseason mark, he looks like a lock for the STATS National Player Of The Year, essentially the MVP of the FCS.
"He does a lot of good things on the field and leadership-wise for our football team," Withers remarked a little wryly after the Elon win.
The knock, of course, is that these accolades come in the Colonial Athletic Association, where the staunchest perennial opponents are Richmond and Delaware. The CAA is also the breeding ground for offensive minds like Chip Kelly, brainy strategists who know high scores are good for headlines (and future jobs at bigger schools).
But JMU's fans don't care about that.
Throughout last Saturday, three things needed to happen for Harrisonburg to be a legitimate and compelling destination for College GameDay's Week 8 broadcast: JMU needed to take care of business against Elon; Memphis needed to make Ole Miss look mortal; and Alabama needed to knock Texas A&M from the ranks of the unbeaten. As those three things slowly happened, #GAMEDAYTOJMU gained steam, and students and alumni sent, um, passionate tweets to the account of GameDay producer Lee Fitting, himself a JMU grad.
Now it's finally happening for the first time in school history, thanks in large part to Lee and his conference-carving offense. Harrisonburg is officially on the map.
Just don't give him too much credit to his face.
"Thank God that this place found me," Lee said after the Dukes knocked off SMU in Dallas. "I didn't find JMU; they found me."