When St. Rita opened its football season three weeks ago at Toyota Park against Simeon, Tyre Lee was more than ready.
It was very exciting just being out there again, having that feeling, having everybody cheering for you,” Lee said.
No wonder. The senior suffered a broken right ankle in Week 6 last year, ending his season after 45 carries, 344 yards and three touchdowns. He also missed the entire wrestling season.
Now Lee is back and making his presence felt in a big way. The 5-11, 195-pound senior is the Sun-Times Athlete of the Week after reaching the 200-yard mark for the second straight week in the Mustangs’ 21-0 win over Montini last Friday.
Lee ran 28 times for 221 yards and a touchdown against the Broncos, pushing his season totals to 564 yards (8.3 per carry) and five TDs. That’s a big reason St. Rita is 3-0 and ranked No. 9 headed into Friday’s Catholic League Blue showdown at home against No. 14 Mount Carmel.
Lee fits well into St. Rita’s tradition of featured backs who can work inside or outside depending on the defensive alignment.
“They’ve got to be able to pound and be durable and make the big play,” Mustangs coach Todd Kuska said.
Lee has demonstrated that ability this season, most notably in a long scoring play against Dunbar in Week 2. “That 92-yard run, he outran everybody,” Kuska said.
Not bad for a guy who followed a different path when he was playing youth football for the Robbins/Cal Park Eagles and the Dolton Bears. “I played linebacker my whole career till I got to high school,” Lee said. “I was always better on defense than on offense.”
But Kuska saw Lee’s future in the offensive backfield when he arrived at St. Rita. Two years ago, the coach brought Lee up to the varsity and made him the starting fullback.
“I promised him, ‘You’ll never have to be in a blocking role again,'” Kuska said. “He was obviously the best option we had. He’s just an athletic kid.”
That school year, Lee also was a mainstay for the Mustangs’ wrestling team, going 31-11 at 160 pounds. Getting through the forced inactivity in that sport as well as football after his ankle injury wasn’t easy, but he had help.
“When I found out the severity of it, my family and my teammates were there for me [so] it didn’t really hurt me that much,” Lee said.
Rehab started during wrestling season and continued through the summer before he finally felt like his old self. Now, he’s focused on football, a sport he’s hoping to continue playing for a while.
“Yeah, that’s definitely one of my big goals, to play college football,” Lee said. “Since I didn’t get all the time I needed last year, this is the year — it’s really my time to come out and have a breakout season.”
Lee’s contributions have come off the field as well as on it, according to Kuska, who calls him “a vocal leader.”
“My goal is to lead my team,” Lee said. “The one aspect we needed and didn’t have all the way last year was confidence. I tell people we need to be great.”
In this case, it’s a case of follow the leader.