The Eastern Washington University cornerback headlined a list of 25 Eagles honored on the All-Big Sky Conference team on Tuesday (Nov. 26) by earning first team honors for the third-straight season.
The 2009 graduate of West Seattle High School became only the third Eagle in school history – and the first on defense -- to accomplish that feat. In fact, only 45 total players in the 50-year history of the league have earned three first team accolades, as well as another three who have four-peated.
Also named to the first team for the Eagles were unanimous selections Vernon Adams (quarterback) and Cooper Kupp (wide receiver), as well as Ashton Miller (center) and Bo Schuetzle (special teams). Adams and Kupp were selected first team on all 12 ballots to earn the league’s only unanimous honors, and were also the league’s Offensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year, respectively.
Named to the second team were Ronnie Hamlin (outside linebacker), Ashton Clark (wide receiver), Steven Forgette (offensive guard), Clay DeBord (offensive tackle) and Andru Pulu (defensive tackle). Third team selections were Zack Gehring (tight end), Quincy Forte (running back), Anthony Larry (defensive end) and Tevin McDonald (safety).
Another 11 Eagles earned honorable mention -- Shaq Hill (wide receiver), Cory Mitchell (wide receiver), Cassidy Curtis (offensive tackle), Brandon Murphy (offensive guard), Will Katoa (defensive tackle), Dylan Zylstra (defensive tackle), Evan Day (defensive end), Cody McCarthy (inside linebacker), Allen Brown (safety), Ronald Baines (cornerback) and Kevin Miller (kicker).
The only other players in school history to be honored on the first team three times are offensive lineman Harold Fox (1992-93-94) and return specialist Lamont Brightful (1999-2000-01).
“T.J. has been incredible,” said Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin. “In this conference with such a rich history and the competition you are up against every week -- and the competition that exists for these awards -- to be recognized as a three-time first team All-Big Sky player is hard to do. He’s gone out and earned it. He’s second on our team in tackles and cornerbacks don’t usually make a lot of tackles.”
Lee now has 238 tackles (16th in school history), four interceptions, 23 passes broken up and 3 1/2 sacks in his 46-game career (32 starts). He owns sole possession of the school record for most career forced fumbles with seven, and his 23 passes broken up ranks seventh. Three times in his career he has forced and recovered the same fumble, with two of them occurring on quarterback sacks. He had a career-high 14 tackles and the fourth interception of his career against Montana State (11/9/13) in his first-ever start at safety for the Eagles.
“He’s ferocious,” Baldwin continued. “He has cover skills, he can blitz, he can force and recover fumbles and he can flat out tackle. Unselfishly, he went back there and played safety for us when we were in a bind. He averaged double digits in tackles in those two games, including 14 against Montana State. He’s a great, All-America type of player for us. He will surely be missed, but I’m excited to see him hopefully finish things out the right way in the playoffs.”
Eastern’s list of All-Big Sky players includes 14 seniors, meaning 11 should be back in an Eagle uniform in the 2014 season. Together they helped the third-ranked Eagles to a perfect 8-0 finish in the Big Sky and a 10-2 regular season record overall.
Eastern’s season continues on Dec. 7 when the Eagles play their first game in the FCS Playoffs at home at Roos Field in Cheney, Wash., against the winner of this weekend’s Northern Arizona-South Dakota State game.
“It’s been an extremely strong group of players both physically and mentally,” praised Baldwin. “They’ve earned it – I keep using that word because you don’t end up as outright Big Sky champs without a lot of work. It’s not just given to you and it’s not just luck, you go out and earn it. The players who were recognized got after it in January all the way through July to put themselves in the position to have this kind of season. I’m proud of them for that and everything they’ve done to get our program to this point.”