Wesley notebook: Sophomore Lee emerges as star running back

Wesley running back E.J. Lee (Wesley sports information)

DOVER — Samer Manna remembers when he first heard that E.J. Lee needed a place to play in college.

The two Germantown, Md. natives had known each other since they were kids.

In 2014, they helped Northwest High win a Class 4A state title at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium.

Manna, now a senior linebacker at Wesley College, knew he had to get Lee in a Wolverine uniform.

“I was trying to get him here as hard as I could,” said Manna. “As soon as I heard he was looking for some place to go, I went straight to this (Wesley coaches) office and told them about him.”

The fact that Lee not only ended up as a Wolverine but has also quickly emerged as a top-notch running back only brings a smile to Manna’s face.

In two games as a starter this year, the sophomore already has run for 350 yards and three touchdowns on 50 carries for Wesley (1-0 NJAC, 1-1 overall), which plays a 1 p.m. game on Saturday at William Patterson (0-2 NJAC, 0-3). Lee’s average of 175 yards per game ranks him fourth nationally in Division III.

“He’s like a little brother to me,” said Manna. “So it makes me proud seeing all the accolades that he’s getting and what he’s doing right now. It’s pretty neat.”

It all couldn’t have worked out much more neatly for the Wolverines.

Samer Manna, left, and coach Mike Drass (Delaware State News file photo)

After sitting out one season with an ankle injury, Lee backed up star running back Jamar Baynard last year. He still got enough playing time to be named the Offensive Rookie of the Year in the New Jersey Athletic Conference.

Now, with Baynard graduated, Lee has made sure the Wolverines’ running game hasn’t missed a beat.

Not that their running styles have much in common. Baynard was a big back who would patiently wait for a hole to open before probably running over a few defenders.

At 5-foot-8, 185 pounds, Lee, on the other hand, is quick. He makes one cut and then puts it into gear.

“E.J. may not run a 4.3/40,” said Wesley coach Mike Drass. “But he is just so gifted with vision. I mean the first guy never tackles him. There’s a play on Saturday (in a 33-0 win over TCNJ), where five guys didn’t tackle him.

“And there’s a play on the sideline where he bounced it outside and there were two guys there. He took his shoulder, drove it into that linebacker’s sternum and took him for a four-yard ride.”

Manna said he’s been trying to tackle Lee for over 10 years now.

“His center of gravity is just so low,” said the linebacker. “And his balance is just unbelievable. It’s so hard to take him down. His drive is just going, going, going. … It takes two or three people to bring him down.”

Lee is still something of a local legend around Germantown, Md. He ran for 197 yards in that 2014 state championship game, a 34-31 win over Old Mill.

“E.J. is probably the most popular person in Germantown,” said Manna. “Everybody knows E.J.”

Clearly, if Lee was bigger, he’d be playing at a bigger college program. But he said he never worried about that.

And if people want to underestimate me because of his smaller stature, that’s OK with Lee.

“With college football, it’s mostly the eye test,” he said. “If you don’t pass the eye test. … They didn’t really talk about it but I just knew that it was mostly about size.
“(But) I’m not really worried about what other people think of me. I’m just trying to have fun and play as hard as I can.”

“It doesn’t bother him at all,” said Manna. “He knows that he can play at any level. I think anybody that knows E.J. and has seen him play the past couple years knows that he can play anywhere he wants. He has the athleticism and the drive to play.”

Burroughs handles first start

By all accounts, new starting quarterback Khaaliq Burroughs did just fine in his first game as a starter on Saturday.

The junior completed 18-of-23 passes for 226 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in the win over the College of New Jersey. He also ran four times for 19 yards.

“Khaaliq did a great job,” said Drass. “He needs to keep improving — we turned the ball over twice. But he made the throws, he was accurate, he ran the offense and he was able to run the football a little bit himself. We thought he did a super job.

“He’s going to get more comfortable. There had to be some butterflies there.”

Goose egg

Wesley’s defense, obviously, was feeling pretty good about its shutout against TCNJ.

“A goose egg at the end of a game, there’s no greater feeling,” said Manna. “We’re playing really well together. The chemistry and all that is really there.”

What Drass liked is the goal-line stand the Wolverines made just before halftime.

The Lions put together their best match of the afternoon, going 59 yards on 19 plays while chewing 7:34 off the clock.

But on the last play of the half, a fourth-and-14 from the Wesley 16, Wolverines defensive back DaJahn Lowery knocked down a pass in the end zone to keep TCNJ off the scoreboard.
“I mean that felt good,” said Drass. “They went for six and we kept them out.”

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