Shane Lee, 2019, St. Frances Academy
by Derek Toney
New Year’s afternoon, Shane Lee will run onto the field at AT&T Stadium in Texas with the University of Alabama football team in the College Football Playoff semifinals, looking to help the No. 1 Crimson Tide move a step closer to another national championship.
Lee, VSN’s No. 2 Linebacker of the Decade, started on his path to Tuscaloosa nearly six years ago at Gilman School. Tosh Lupoi, then an Alabama assistant coach, noticed Lee in the Greyhounds’ weight room.
“Tosh grabbed me and says, ‘Who the heck is that kid? Why didn’t you tell me about him?’” recalled Henry Russell, then a long-time Gilman assistant who’s now co-coach at St. Frances Academy. “I was like, ‘Tosh, he’s still in the eighth grade.’”
A man-child as a 6-foot, 215-pound eighth-grader, Lee was called “The Hulk” by his Gilman teammates as a freshman. At St. Frances, Lee was part of arguably the most dominant run by an area football team.
In 2017, the Panthers won the MIAA A Conference championship in Lee’s junior campaign. The East Baltimore school outscored MIAA A opponents, 343-50, capped with a 44-7 win over Gilman in the title game. St. Frances finished the year ranked fourth nationally in USA Today’s Super 25.
The Panthers went 10-0 in 2018, playing an independent schedule (outscoring opponents, 477-32). In late spring of 2018, MIAA A football member schools, citing safety and competitive imbalance concerns, declined to play the Chase Street school. St. Frances was declared MIAA A champions by the league’s Executive Committee.
The schools’ decision not to play the Panthers was a major controversy, drawing charges of racism. ESPN’s news magazine school E:60 did a profile on the situation.
Lee, a captain in his senior year, said his teammates shut out the distractions.
“It’s never about anybody but us, it’s always about us. We take care of our own,” said Lee, VSN’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2018. “All the outside noise is just that…let it go and be who we are.”
Lee, rated the nation’s top inside linebacker by ESPN, lived up to lofty expectations bestowed as a precocious freshman at Gilman. At 6-foot-1 and 245 pounds, Lee posted 61 tackles, 4-1/2 quarterback sacks, five forced fumbles, one fumble recovery.
As a junior, Lee had 78 tackles, two sacks, two interceptions, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries. He committed to Alabama in the spring of 2018.
When Crimson Tide star linebacker Dylan Moses went down with a torn ACL before the 2019 opener, Lee, who had a solid spring camp, stepped right in. He finished with 86 tackles and 4-1/2 quarterback sacks, earning Freshman All-SEC honors.
Russell wasn’t surprised by Lee’s success because of his work ethic and commitment to detail.
“The good thing with Shane is he comes from a defense where he made checks and it’s not new for him,” Russell said. “We make a lot of checks on the field with our linebackers. And Shane’s a very smart kid. He works extremely hard. Physically, he’s been ready since he was a freshman in high school.”
Lee has been a reserve (three tackles, sack) this season with Moses back healthy. He’s been a mentor to freshman defensive end and former St. Frances teammate Chris Braswell.
“He’s a great, great player, (and) he’s going to (continue to) develop,” said Braswell. “He was a freshman and I think he played great for a freshman. And he’s just going to continue to develop. He’s going to keep his head down and keep working too. That’s what we’re going to do.”