Image courtesy of JMU Athletics Communications
By Bennett Conlin
(Correction at 8:50 p.m. on 6/30): A previous version of the story said Lee missed the birth of his daughter while at Your Call Football. Lee flew back during his time at Your Call Football to be home for his daughter’s birth. He returned home every week during the five-week season for a few days.
When Vad Lee played at JMU, the quarterback embarrassed defenses. Whether it was with his arm or his legs, Lee’s athleticism stunned fans and kept CAA defensive coordinators up at night.
During his two years at JMU after transferring from Georgia Tech, Lee threw for 5,652 yards and 51 touchdowns. He also added 1,640 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground. If you add that all together, Lee accumulated 7,292 yards and 68 touchdowns in just 21 games. That’s good for an average of 347.2 yards and 3.24 touchdowns per game.
Among Lee’s most notable performances was his historic game against SMU in 2015. Lee became the first player in college football history to throw and pass for over 275 yards in the same game. The Dukes upset the Mustangs behind Lee’s unreal game, and the country took notice of the star.
JMU kept winning, ESPN came to campus for a video segment on Lee and eventually ESPN returned to campus for College GameDay later in the season. Lee played a major role in increasing the excitement around the program and helping make a strong case for GameDay to visit the school.
Unfortunately, Lee’s senior season was cut short due to a foot injury suffered the week GameDay came to Harrisonburg. JMU fell to Richmond and faltered down the stretch without its best player and team leader. The season ended with a disappointing postseason loss to Colgate.
The injury hurt Lee’s chances of earning a roster spot in the NFL as he spent time rehabbing and recovering when he otherwise would’ve been training for the NFL Draft and team tryouts.
Lee went undrafted, attended rookie mini camp for the New York Giants and eventually landed in the Canadian Football League with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 2016. After a few months with the team, Lee pursued other opportunities.
After six months as a graduate intern with Barton Executive Search were followed by six months as a sales associate for Mondelez International, Lee accepted a position as the Director of Campus Ministry with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Indiana University. The job ties together his two passions of faith and football.
“My faith comes No. 1 and then everything else follows for me,” Lee said. “Without faith, I don’t think I would be here where I am today or have had the opportunities that I’ve had in the past.”
Lee believes his faith helps him brighten a locker room whether it’s as a player, mentor or team chaplain.
“Sometimes the locker room can be very dark,” Lee said. “You have so many different personalities, so for me [it’s about] just being that presence, being that light, being that example as best as I can. I’m not perfect by any means, but I just try to set the temperature of the team.”
While Lee hadn’t suited up as a football player since 2016 as he built a family and focused on other opportunities, he decided to jump at the chance to join a unique league this past winter.
Lee played in the Your Call Football League, which allowed viewers to select one of three available play call options prior to each play. The play with the most votes was the play the team ran. It’s a different style, but the core concepts are still the same as other traditional leagues.
The league called Lee in January and he accepted the chance to play. The league’s season only takes place in February and March, which made Lee feel comfortable joining the league. He didn’t have to uproot his life in Indiana to go down south for a few months.
“It was great,” Lee said of the league. “It was great exposure and great experience for me.”
Lee said the team practiced at the Jacksonville Jaguars facility and spent time with former NFL coaches. He also shared his excitement for teaming up with former JMU running back Khalid Abdullah again. Overall, the league was a perfect chance for Lee to get back on the field.
“It was one of those things where I wasn’t really looking for the opportunity, but the opportunity came to me, and I just couldn’t refuse it for such a short time frame of commitment that it was,” Lee said.
The former FCS standout shined in the five-week league, putting up numerous highlights thanks to his elite scrambling ability and strong arm.
Lee’s stellar play helped him earn a spot in the XFL’s recent Washington D.C. showcase, where he had a chance to put his skills on display. He said he received “a lot of positive feedback” at the showcase, but he knows nothing is guaranteed moving forward.
While he isn’t sure what will come of the tryout for the upstart league set to begin in Feb. 2020, he believes good play during his time in Your Call Football helped position him for success with future professional endeavors.
“I wasn’t just going to go play for fun for five weeks, but I was going to prove myself worthy in those five weeks,” Lee said. “I accomplished what I wanted to go do in those five weeks, it was exciting.”
He mentioned his gratitude to his family, which supported him during the months away. Lee’s family means a lot to him, he actually took the interview with me as his young daughter sat in his lap, and he knows that his future decisions are determined by what’s best for him and his family. Playing in Your Call Football wasn’t just a fun way to play the game he loved, it was a chance to get better, showcase his skills and get more professional reps as he continues to help provide for his family.
Lee’s youngest daughter was born while he was playing in Your Call Football. Lee flew home for her birth and called the time apart a “tough time,” but he flew home on a weekly basis during the season to be with his family. Despite the difficulty of being away from his wife and kids for stretches, Lee knew they had his back.
“It was really encouraging to just have my family’s support,” Lee said. “My wife would send me pictures of my daughters watching games, knowing that’s what I do it for.”
Regardless of what happens with the XFL, Lee believes he’s positioned himself for a successful career in sports. He’s more than just a football player, and he’s put his skills to work in a variety of areas.
In addition to his work as a team chaplain and football player, Lee helps train quarterbacks and other athletes through his online platform. He’s also a motivational speaker and his website features a video of Lee speaking to a group of Chick-fil-a employees in a creative and engaging manner.
Your Call Football might have given Lee’s playing career new life, but even if it doesn’t, the former JMU star is set up for success moving forward. With different sports ventures, a loving family and strong faith, Lee feels he’s on the right path and that his purpose is about more than just football.
He talked about his love for mentoring younger players and reaching people who can benefit from his guidance. He mentioned the increased awareness surrounding mental illness in sports, and he believes he’s the type of leader that can help develop young athletes and lead them through tough times on and off the field.
“That’s what I do, and that’s who I am,” Lee said about mentoring others. “Football is just something that I do, but it’s a platform for me to be able to reach above the crowd.”