In this western Illinois village, Iowa recruit Logan Lee is the main show in town

Matthew Bain
Hawk Central

ORION, Ill. — There’s no government-funded fire department in Logan Lee’s hometown. Let's be clear, too. It's actually his home village. Orion, population 1,861, is technically considered a village. 

Orion's Logan Lee, an Iowa commit, is pictured during practice in Orion, Ill. on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017.

The western Illinois community has no hospital. The police "station" is two full-time deputies working for the Henry County Sheriff's Department. It does have a post office downtown, next to an old Maytag store and across the street from Ron’s Barbershop. St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church stands above the tree line a bit up the road. A sign out front reads, "God’s work is in our hands."

Keep driving up the road — past the Orion Lutheran Cemetery, past swaths of farmland — and you’ll hit Orion High School, home of the Chargers. Head over to the football field. You’ll join a group of dads, known as the village’s neighborhood watch, as they take a break to see Lee practice.

Lee is the show here in Orion. A 6-foot-5, 225-pound Hawkeye tight end recruit for the class of 2019, Lee is the first football player from here to commit to a D-I program. And Iowa wasn’t the only big dog after him.

Before his junior year ever began, Lee held offers from Illinois, Michigan, Michigan State, Missouri, Wisconsin, Ole Miss, Minnesota and Northwestern. He's considered one of the finest juniors in the nation. 

"We don’t have Division I kids rolling around here," said Orion head coach Chip Filler, who's been with the program since 1999. "He’s definitely one of a kind. One in a million."

Lee doesn't act like he's anything special, though.

"It’d be easy for Logan, in our school of our size, to be like, 'Whatever. I’m the big man on campus. I’m going to Iowa,'" Filler said. "But you would never know (he was)."

Lee is a quiet, respectful kid who thanks people for every little thing and lets his football do the talking. Yes, he’s a menace on the gridiron and will only improve this season — his first full year on varsity. He caught 11 passes for 155 yards and three touchdowns last year.

But he’s a straight-A student and wrestling state champion, too. He’s well-liked by his teachers and peers, who were all eager to tell stories about the Logan Lee they love. Let’s hear a few …

Orion's Logan Lee, an Iowa commit, works on plays during practice in Orion, Ill. on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017.

'I thought this was the right thing to do'

News travels fast in Orion, where the Village Hall is a Casey’s-sized yellow hovel with a metal slot for payments out front. So when the husband of the high school’s P.E. teacher had health problems three years ago, Lee, then in eighth grade, heard about it.

And he decided to help.

That P.E. teacher, who preferred not to be named, remembers coming home after school one day, ready to tend to her husband. She parked her car — and froze. She couldn’t believe her eyes.

There was Lee, mowing her lawn with her husband’s lawn mower. He turned to smile and wave when he saw her.

"And he just said, 'I thought this was right thing to do,'" the teacher said, remembering that day in Orion’s main office last week.

"That’s Logan," Orion’s principal, Nathan DeBaille, added with a smile.

'He'll do anything for anyone'

Dawson Schulenberg grew up with Lee. They began hunting together in middle school. Deer and coyotes, mostly.

They would hunt deer from a tree stand — heavy hassles to lug around for a normal-sized high schooler.

Schulenberg, a quarterback and safety for Orion, recalls a particular outing a couple years ago when he and Lee were set to hunt on Schulenberg’s property. That meant they’d use Schulenberg’s tree stand, and that meant Schulenberg had to carry it.

Not for long.

"I’m dragging this stand and I’m obviously not as big and strong as Logan," Schulenberg said, "and he goes to help me. Now, I’m expecting him to take half of it. But he just takes this entire stand and puts it on his back and carries it a mile while I’m just sitting there, watching.

“He’ll do anything for anyone, no matter if you’re friends or not. He’ll just be there for you.”

Bittersweet championship 

Lee began wrestling for Orion last year. And in his first season, he took home the Illinois Class 1A state title at 220 pounds. Photos from the championship match show Lee elated and beaming after he won.

But he felt something quite different 24 hours prior: guilt.

It surfaced after the semifinals, during the drive from the State Farm Center in Champaign back to Orion. He turned to his coach, Dan Diamond, and said he thought he didn’t deserve to wrestle in the state title match the next day.

"So many (of my teammates) — the actual people that devote all their time to wrestling — (deserved it)," Lee said after football practice last week. "I felt guilty that they weren’t out there and I’m only a seasonal wrestling guy."

If that doesn't show humility, DeBaille doesn’t know what would.

"In his heart," Orion’s principal said, "he felt like he hadn’t worked hard enough to deserve a shot to win. To me, that’s a Logan story. He knew what it should take, and he knew that he was blessed to be where he was at, because he’s got it on God-given talent. He works hard, but he’s got some natural gifts.

"He’s just a mature kid."

Role model

One person enjoyed the perks of Lee’s recruitment without any associated stress: Kale, Filler's 9-year-old son.

Filler said Lee asked his son to tag along on lots of his recruiting visits. Kale got to play catch with Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. He sat down and mused about life with Kirk Ferentz at Iowa’s indoor practice facility.

And all the while, Kale found a new hero in Dad’s tight end.

"Lee has been such a great role model for him," Filler said. "He holds the door open for people. It’s just little things like that that people pick up on. He gets handed something, it’s 'Thank you.' Super manners. He just treats people with so much respect. And every kid that sees him and looks up to him — that’s genuine; it’s not fake. It’s everything."

Kale has started following Lee’s lead, Filler said. Holding doors open for people, emulating his manners in every way.

That’s the kind of legacy Lee wants to leave. He wants to represent something bigger than football.

In his words: "I just want to be remembered as a good person."

Orion's Logan Lee, an Iowa commit, sets up a block during practice in Orion, Ill. on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017.

Recruiting: Iowa first to bite

So how did Iowa land a shy kid from a forgotten village way outside the Chicagoland recruiting area?

Simple: Iowa was the first team to notice the sky kid from a forgotten village way outside the Chicagoland recruiting area. Hawkeyes defensive line coach Reese Morgan drove over to see Lee in February, Filler said — before any other D-I school showed interest.

"Yeah, that's an Iowa kid," Filler remembers Morgan saying when he first saw Lee.

After Lee won the state wrestling title, Iowa invited him to its junior day and offered him that Sunday. Michigan then offered on Wednesday and Illinois followed suit Friday. Soon, Ohio State, Missouri, Minnesota and Penn State were all stopping by a place few Division I recruiters have ever gone: Orion.

Lee visited Iowa, Notre Dame, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri, but he said he was always just comparing schools to Iowa. His three dream schools were Miami, Arkansas and Iowa.

"Nothing would come close," Lee said. "(I knew I'd pick Iowa) really the entire time. I was thinking it. I didn't tell a single person until the day before I verbally committed. But the entire time, I knew where I wanted to go."

He committed to the Hawkeyes at a program cookout in late June. It was a Saturday, and Filler was at a buddy's wedding in Las Vegas at the time. He said Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz called him that morning, but he let it go.

A couple hours later, during the reception, Filler learned of his tight end's commitment from Lee's dad — and Twitter.

"He is an Iowa tight end, through and through," Filler said. "He is a run-blocker. He’ll make plays in the passing game for us. He’ll do well at the next level doing the same thing. People ask me all the time, 'Well don't you think he could play defensive end? Don't you think he could be better at defensive end?'

"I don't think so, at the next level, just because of all the spread offenses and all the people playing in space. His big thing is his physicality, and he can line up at tight end and he can crush people. And I know that’s what Coach (Kirk) Ferentz wants him to do."

Lee said he's thrilled to have the recruiting process over with so he can focus on his final two seasons at Orion. DeBaille said he still receives transcript requests from west coast schools interested in Lee.

Guess they haven't heard the news from little ol' Orion.

Matthew Bain covers preps, recruiting and the Hawkeyes for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, The Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewBain_.