USC wide receiver Marqise Lee is the Biletnikoff Award favorite and a late-breaking challenger for this year’s Heisman Trophy.
The 6-foot, 195-pound sophomore is one of the most explosive, versatile and productive players in college football. Through 10 games, he has 98 catches for 1,447 yards and 13 touchdowns, 110 yards rushing and 677 yards and a score on 23 kickoff returns. He is second nationally with 223.4 all-purpose yards per game and, on his current pace, would break the Pac-12 record for total all-purpose yardage in a season.
It’s quite an improvement over a very impressive freshman season that saw him catch 73 passes for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns.
An elite athlete, he also competes as a long jumper for USC’s track and field team. He qualified for the NCAA championships this past season and (with limited practice time) had a best jump of 25-1 1/4.
With matchups left against UCLA, Notre Dame and (contingent upon a win over the Bruins) whichever team represents the North division in the Pac-12 conference championship game, Lee has the potential to influence the Heisman and national title races in a profound way.
We caught up with him after practice on Tuesday for a brief Q & A:
To what do you attribute this dramatic increase in your production this year over last?
“The mindset is that I wanted to do better than I did last year. That’s really about it. To improve and do better than last year. That’s what I’ll continue doing.
“I know the offense more. I can read the defense better now. I’m bigger, of course. The weight room coaches did a great job of helping me improve my body weight. I’m much faster from running track. I put that extra time in. Me and Robert [Woods] went out on off days to catch balls and run routes, and work on improving the little things like blocking.”
Your coaches are having you do so much now: You run routes. You run reverses. You run the Wildcat. You return kicks. You even prepared to play a little defense last week. It seems like you never come off the field. How do you handle the pressure of such a heavy workload?
“There’s not much pressure at all. Everyone’s mindset coming into college is to do what the coaches want you to do. This is what they want me to do. That’s why I’m here. I’m going to do whatever they want me to do. It’s not too much. I’m in the right shape and mind set to go out there and do whatever they want.”
What are your thoughts on being mentioned as a Heisman candidate?
“It’s great to hear your name out there, but my main focus is to go out there and compete for my team. That’s the main thing I focus on. We still have multiple games left and I’m not worrying about the accolades that come with me playing, I’m just worrying about maintaining and doing what I’m supposed to do to help the team win.”
When did you start thinking about going to USC? Were you aware of USC’s receiver tradition while being recruited?
“Growing up I didn’t really watch football. I didn’t know the outcome of where I was going to be. My mindset was that I would go to any college that offered me. Luckily USC offered me and I was thinking about staying home, so it worked out great.
“I didn’t necessarily know about the receiver tradition. I didn’t go deep into it. I knew there were great receivers here. I didn’t really look into it, I focused on just playing.”
What do you enjoy most about playing for USC?
“The family aspect of it. You always have that family at home, but there are things you can’t really talk to your parents about but you can talk to your coaches and teammates about. That second family is the most important part.”
They say your first love was basketball. And of course you compete in track in the offseason. What do those two sports mean to you?
“I miss basketball. I’m not going to lie. Sometimes I want to go in the gym and shoot some hoops but I decided not to so I don’t hurt myself.
“Track has helped a lot with my speed and endurance. It helps me run forever and not really get tired. I feel much faster than last year as a result of competing in track.”
Not too many people know sign language, but you do, since your parents are hearing-impaired. How did you learn it and has it helped you with learning football signals?
“My mom taught it to me a little bit and my dad, too. It helped me a lot. Signals are easy for me to learn because of knowing it. I know most of the hand gestures, so it’s easy for me to process and learn compared to other people.”
USC just released a video on your behalf to tout you for the Heisman Trophy. Did you know that was coming and what did you think of it?
“I didn’t know anything about it. The first time I saw it was when everyone else saw it. It came on Twitter and I just so happened to click on it. I appreciate that they did it. I’m just going to keep playing.”
The Biletnikoff finalist list came out recently and you are on it. Are you aware that no USC receiver has ever won the award?
“I did not know that. It would mean a great deal to win it. It’s an amazing opportunity to bring this to USC. Everything I do is for them, for SC. That’s who I represent. To win that would be amazing because it would mean I represented my school the best that I could.”
If you finish strong to this season you might make it to New York as a Heisman finalist. Are you ready for that and the prospect of having to dress up and maybe give a speech?
“I’ll have to process all of that. I know I’ll get a nice suit, but I’ll have to really think about what I’m going to say.”
What do you know about the Heisman and USC’s history with the award?
“I really didn’t follow it growing up. The only one I really know is Reggie Bush. Me being a young guy, I really didn’t follow football. I know there are a lot of great players out there who actually won it. If I actually make it there, I look forward to meeting them.”