Eastern Washington University has quietly distributed talent all across the CFL.
T.J. Lee III was a freshman in 2010 when quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell was a junior and linebacker J.C. Sherritt was a senior. This also came one year after Matt Nichols’ senior season and one year before Vernon Adams Jr. redshirted with the team.
The Eagles. They’re everywhere in the CFL.
Lee never let his five-foot-nine frame deter him from pursuing professional football. He had future NFL receivers in Brandon Kaufman (six-foot-five) and Cooper Kupp (six-foot-two) to keep honest in practice, figuring out how to cover big-bodied targets.
“One of the ones that molded me was Kaufman … He was the one that really gave me the personal challenge that made me the best corner. He was tall and lanky, Bo Levi would put the ball somewhere that I couldn’t get it,” Lee told BCLions.com last month.
“It would be red zone one-on-one and I’d be like, ‘Go again.’ Then Kaufman would catch it on me. I’m like, ‘Go again, go again.’ Eventually, I made it so it wasn’t a disadvantage because I had the confidence to play against those taller guys.”
Lee recorded 182 tackles, seven forced fumbles, and four interceptions over four seasons at Eastern Washington (2010-2013) and was named first-team All-Big Sky Conference three times.
The native of Houston signed with the B.C. Lions straight out of college and made an immediate impact as a rookie, making 24 total tackles, two forced fumbles, and one interception in eight games. He improved the following season, making 80 total tackles, four interceptions, and three sacks.
Disaster struck in 2016, just as the defensive back was starting to establish himself as one of the best in the West Division. Lee suffered a ruptured Achilles in the fourth game of the year, ending his season.
Achilles injuries have the potential to end careers if they are not rehabbed correctly. Lee returned in 2017 and hasn’t missed a beat since, recording 205 total tackles, 11 interceptions, three forced fumbles, and one touchdown in three seasons.
Lee finally received some long-overdue recognition in 2018 when he was named a CFL all-star. He was also the B.C. Lions’ nominee for Most Outstanding Defensive Player in 2019, a testament to his level of play at halfback.
The 30-year-old remains under contract with the Lions for 2021 where he’ll continue to fill a leadership role within the club’s secondary.
3DownNation is unveiling its list of the top 100 active CFL players, a project that will run through December 31, 2020. To read the criteria for player eligibility, click here. The list to date can be found below.
72. SAM Anthony Cioffi, Free Agent
73. DB Shaquille Richardson, Toronto Argonauts
74. REC Kamar Jorden, Calgary Stampeders
75. OL Darius Ciraco, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
76. REC Jalen Saunders, Free Agent
77. QB Dane Evans, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
78. REC Brad Sinopoli, Ottawa Redblacks
79. RET Janarion Grant, Free Agent
80. DE Avery Ellis, Ottawa Redblacks
81. DE Cordarro Law, Calgary Stampeders
82. DB Brandon Alexander, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
83. OL Jermarcus Hardrick, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
84. DB Branden Dozier, Free Agent
85. SAM Otha Foster, Saskatchewan Roughriders
86. DB Antoine Pruneau, Ottawa Redblacks
87. RB John White, B.C. Lions
88. LB Avery Williams, Ottawa Redblacks
89. LB Jovan Santos-Knox, Free Agent
90. DB Richard Leonard, Calgary Stampeders
91. REC Armanti Edwards, Edmonton Football Team
92. RB C.J. Gable, Free Agent
93. DT Mike Rose, Calgary Stampeders
94. REC S.J. Green, Free Agent
95. DB Mike Edem, Saskatchewan Roughriders
96. DE John Bowman, Montreal Alouettes
97. DB Taylor Loffler, Montreal Alouettes
98. QB Nick Arbuckle, Ottawa Redblacks
99. ST Mike Miller, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
100. DE Chris Casher, B.C. Lions