In his office off of Main Street in Starkville, former quarterback Tyson Lee sat reflecting on the past 10 years since he graduated from Mississippi State University. He offered what he hopes for incoming freshman and transfer students is that they will learn valuable life lessons in their time at MSU.
"I hope that they will be responsible, I hope that they will be hard working and that they will try and help people around them,” Lee said. "I would say early on, take on responsibility. Find ways in which you can become involved in things on campus and in the community."
Lee said that one of the best pieces of advice he can give is for students to be around like-minded people, as he has seen and worked with students in his time as a quarterback at MSU as both an employee in the athletics department and an on-campus ministry leader.
"Over time those individuals begin to impact the way that you think, and some of the things that you do" Lee said. "Whether that be go to class or not go to class. Whether that be to participate in certain activities or not to participate in certain activities. I think being really aware of who you surround yourself with and taking responsibility for your own decisions."
Another important word of advice Lee said he believes would be beneficial to students is for them to understand that college is a process. While the ultimate goal is to earn a degree, it is also to improve as a person and grow in skill set for later in life.
"I think understanding the importance of delayed gratification," Lee said. "In our instant gratification world right now, life is a journey. College is a process and understanding everything that you do today will impact tomorrow and so to take it one day at a time and after four years you have been made into something worthwhile."
Part of that journey is something Lee experienced himself in his senior year, as he lead the Bulldogs to just a few inches shy of the end zone, as MSU lined up on fourth down. On the other side of the line of scrimmage were the purple and gold clad players of Louisiana State University. A touchdown would have given MSU its first win over LSU at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field in 10 years. The Bulldogs trailed LSU by a score of 30-24.
The Bulldogs lined up in the wishbone, Anthony Dixon at tail back, Tyson Lee under center as quarterback. Lee had thrown a pass the previous play that was knocked down at the line of scrimmage. The pass would have found the waiting arms of a wide open receiver for the go ahead touchdown. Instead, it had fallen to the ground incomplete.
There was 1:16 on the clock as the cowbells crescendoed. Lee took the snap, rolled to his left and decided to keep the ball instead of making the pitch to Dixon. Cutting up the field to the end zone, Lee was met by two LSU defenders. The Tigers cut him down just six inches short of the end zone.
"I have that picture up on my wall at home," Lee said. "It's cool for me. Obviously I would have loved to have gotten in. It was such a learning opportunity though. You learn that fans are fickle and that people are fickle. It was great because you learn about yourself in the midst of defeat."
Danny P. Smith, the Sports Editor for the Starkville Daily News, started covering Tyson Lee when Lee transferred to MSU from Itawamba Community college. Smith said he thinks the loss toughened Tyson and the team up.
"They were right there on the verge of a great victory and it kind of got snatched out from underneath them like a rug," Smith said. "Tyson, he handled it like a champ. It was one of those growing pains they had that year. It was not fun, but it was setting them up for other stuff later. It was just a part of the growing process for them that they had to go through.”
The biggest lesson Lee said he learned from that game was the difference between having failed and being a failure. It is a lesson he holds true now, as he tries to help his family, colleagues and students be better because of their failures.
"I have told people often that there is a difference between 'I failed' and 'I am a failure,'" Lee said. "You have got to be able to distinguish the difference. The fact that I didn’t get in, I failed we lost the game. But being able to own, yes Tyson failed but Tyson isn’t a failure. It was an important distinction to make then, and it is now."
While the lesson Lee learned was from athletics, he said it can also be applied to the classroom or career. Lee said, as a person you have to know who you are outside of how well you do and take opportunities when they come.
"You have to know who you are outside of your performance," Lee said. "Not just in athletics, but in life. Also, opportunities come and go. When they come, you have got to take advantage of them. So, it has been a 10 year learning opportunity for me still."