Jul. 25, 2016
Prospect Profile: Weston Lee, Lakewood High School (CO)
If there's one thing that aspects of the western media has messed up about the state of Colorado, it's that all of the Centennial State is cold and covered in snow. Whether it's because of the state's reputation for snowing or twenty years of South Park, eyebrows are raised even in the summertime when shots of Coors Field or downtown Denver show there's not a single snowflake in sight.
Truth is, Colorado in the summer can get pretty damn hot and on this day, drenched in sweat and dirt, Lakewood cornerback Weston Lee is wishing snow is in the forecast.
Going into his junior year of high school, Weston -- a lifelong Cleveland Browns and Cavaliers fan who has yet to stop celebrating the latter's NBA Finals victory -- has begun to put his name on the map of star football players despite coming from just the fifth-largest town in Colorado. Even after suffering a personal loss earlier this year and dealing with the anxiety that comes with being a student-athlete, a sweat-covered Weston is still able to flash a slight smile after running sprints.
"I'm just taking things day by day," Weston said in an interview earlier this week. "We try to do the same in practice, which is making us more meshed together and giving us more confidence for when the season starts."
Not a single bit of Weston's confidence is fake, despite the pressure on him to help the Tigers rebound after a disappointing 2015 season that saw Jeff Braun's boys struggle to just a 3-7 record. On a team in desperate need of leadership and standout players, Lee has already stepped up and brought his A-game to training camp.
"I think of myself as a hard working, versatile cornerback who has a bit of Vontae Davis, Chris Harris, and Tyrann Mathieu in him," Weston explained during one of our early conversations. "A lot of cornerbacks try to go for the big hits, but I'm much more of a playmaker. You know what, when it comes to big games or a play is needed to be made, usually you'll be able to find me flying to the ball making something happen."
Some have immediately dismissed players of Weston's size -- the junior stands at a relatively small 5'10" and 160 pounds -- but he has made it clear that the 'football culture' that looks down upon size doesn't bother him. In fact, after just five minutes of talking with him, you'll see that a part of Weston is dedicated to showing people that what happens on the field tops all pre-conceived notions about the way football players should look.
"Football is football in the end. If your technique is good and you can compete, I don't think the game is any different. My motto has always been 'pressure creates diamonds' which I keep in mind whenever I take the field. I would hope that people look at how I play on the field rather than size, especially because my biggest strength as a football player is coverage. Obviously, I know that there's more to this game than being good at one thing and that's why I still need to continue working on everything. At the end of the day, you can never be too good at what you do."
Coverage isn't the only thing that Weston excels at as many around the team have taken note of the junior's leadership in a time where optimism and positivity is needed after last year's frustrating campaign. Weston, to his credit and after a quick blush, explained his rationale about maturing for the good of the team.
"I needed to be a louder voice on the team and be a leader. We were very young (the team saw twenty-two seniors leave after last season), so I feel like if we stick together and have a brotherhood like most teams that win championships, I feel we can compete at a very high level."
"One of Weston's biggest qualities is leadership -- it's like he's always talking to a younger player and instead of tearing into him, he's coaching him and trying to get him to improve," teammate Brian Duong added in a text message. "Even when I make mistakes, he's there to tell me what I did and how I can fix it. This is a guy who is always working hard, always trying to make sure that he's the first to make the play."
Unfortunately for Weston, arguably his biggest fan won't be in the stands this season to watch him dominate opposing offenses and make those signature plays. Mackenzie Forrest, a Lakewood senior who had committed to Regis University to play college basketball and a close friend of Weston's, passed earlier this year in a single-car accident that left her without any brain function. While she was pulled off life support days later, Weston has promised there's not a chance he'll be forgetting her impact on his life.
"I'd like to give Mackenzie Forrest a ton of credit for me being as intense as I am when I play," Weston said of his late friend. "Because just like she did on the basketball court, I bring a fire in my eye to the football field. Mac taught me a lot as an athlete when I was making that transition to becoming a varsity athlete. I'm dedicating every game this season to her."
In addition, Weston has also made #33 -- Mackenzie's number in basketball -- his practice jersey and will be honoring her with taped wrists and writing her name on his cleats.
Rather than let the loss of Mackenzie take his life over and turn him into a shell of his former self, Weston did the one thing that would have made his late friend proud: working to get better on the field. The best way for Weston to get that done was beginning workouts at Six Zero Strength, a sports training facility founded by former Denver Broncos offensive lineman Matt McChesney. As part of a new training regimen to keep his mind on football and to best honor Mackenzie, Weston has spent the past few months training with the former Colorado Buffaloes defensive lineman -- a fact not lost on those around him.
"Although most athletes you see take some sort of offseason or break from working out, Weston's really been bettering himself by training at Six Zero Strength," Tigers linebackers coach Chase Braun said last week. "He's approached training the same way he has football and all other aspects of his life: wholeheartedly. When Weston sets his mind to something, there is absolutely nothing that will stop him from achieving it."
"I really feel that's the main reasons scouts should be looking at Wes because when there's no practice, this guy is going and doing his personal training and lifting," Duong added in praise of his teammate. "Sometimes, he gets mad when things go wrong, but he uses that frustration to drive him to work harder on the field and in the weight room."
But, how much of that training will make an impact for his play when the season starts? Well, let's take a look at the complete mixtape of highlights that Weston put together following last season.
The important thing to note here is definitely that resiliency and desire to make a play, especially when the defense as a whole gives up a long play; rather than let the opposing wide receiver just run all the way to the end zone after already racking up 40 yards, Weston is chasing after him to prevent that touchdown and show that Lakewood's defense isn't one that rolls over without any desire of fighting back.
"Weston doesn't back down from challenges and I think that's what makes him a really coachable player too," teammate Nick Pierro explained. "He's just such a well-rounded player that it makes it hard for anyone to beat him."
At the end of the day, I really do think you want that type of well-rounded football player when you're building a team with the desire to actually win. No, you're not going to see Weston do his best Marcus Peters impression and try to rack up interceptions, nor will you see him lay out the hit-stick like Sean Taylor or Champ Bailey in an older Madden game, but you are going to get a fine mix of durability and reliability.
The final word goes to Wes, who ended our talk not with a boast about how Lakewood was going to take Colorado by storm in 2016, but with a link to the charity that was set up for Mackenzie following her death. That, folks, is the type of kid you want leading your team out onto the field -- preferably by Drake's 'Headlines', at least according to Wes -- and doing all he can to secure the win.
Lakewood kicks their season off on September 2nd with an away game against Arvada West, with the Tigers returning home for a September 8th showdown with Bear Creek. All details for the Lakewood Tigers can be found on their MaxPreps page and all details relating to Wes alone can be found on his Hudl page. For more articles like this one and to officially join the Mix, make sure to follow me on Twitter at @JakeElman
If you are a high school athlete who is either seriously planning on playing in college or has committed to college -- or you're a college athlete -- and you want a feature done on you, please contact me at Jakeelman97@gmail.com. I will need proof -- MaxPreps, Hudl, etc -- but will happily do a piece on you.