Iowa and Iowa State are among the many schools that want Iowa Western linebacker Chester Graves. Matthew Bain, Sports writer
For a December graduate like Malcolm Lee, recruitment is hitting its home stretch.
With a decision looming, the top-20 junior college 2019 prospect told the Register he’s down to a final five: Iowa, Texas, Houston, Central Florida and Kansas State. The Longhorns haven’t offered, but they want him to take an official visit in November.
"I want to make sure I’m making the right choice here," Lee said. "I have some ideas in mind (about) where I’ll probably end up, but I just want to be 100 percent sure that I’m making the correct choice here."
A lot has changed in two years for Lee.
Things just didn’t fully click in high school. As a 6-foot-5, 240-pound defensive end out of Bellevue, Nebraska, Lee only held one offer from South Dakota State as a 2017 prospect. He opted to take the junior college route at Iowa Western.
And, like so many before him, Lee has thrived with the Reivers. He piled up 43 tackles and 10 tackles for loss as a freshman, establishing himself. He had 10 tackles through four games this year before being sidelined with an elbow injury.
"He’s come in and put his mind to (it)," Iowa Western coach Scott Strohmeier told the Des Moines Register. "He’s matured; he’s grown. And it wasn't that he was ever in any trouble — maturity from a playing consistently, taking coaching and technique (standpoint). Because there were flashes through high school. And now you put it all together and he’s a pretty darn good player."
The Hawkeyes offered Lee during his unofficial visit to campus in June. They want another defensive end for 2019, and Lee is arguably a top-five player at the position in this junior college class.
Iowa also has other 2019 defensive end offers out to Illinois three-star Keith Randolph and Georgia three-star Tomari Fox.
"They’ve been really hands-off with my recruitment," Lee said of the Hawkeyes. "They said that it would be like that. They understand that I’m a juco guy and I’m mature enough to go a couple weeks without having to talk to one of the coaches about me (and think) that they don’t like me anymore."
Iowa Western receiver Nick Singleton hauls in a couple catches versus Ellsworth. Matthew Bain, Sports writer
Lee, the son of former Huskers and NFL lineman Oudious Lee, is a particularly intriguing prospect because of his size. He checks in at 6-6, 265 right now. If he stays around that weight, he’s a pass-rushing defensive end in a 4-3 defense. But his dimensions offer the ability to grow and become scheme-versatile.
Now, it’s all about official visits. Lee plans to visit as many schools as he can between the end of Iowa Western’s season (Nov. 10) and the midyear transfer period (Dec. 19). He said he’d like to take an official this upcoming weekend, which is a bye for the Reivers, but no school has offered the option.
Lee broke down his top schools with the Register:
"It’s close to home. That’s one thing. It’s a four-hour drive from Omaha. It’s really important to me that my family can come see me play pretty much on a weekly basis. They’re in the Big Ten. That's something I always aspired to play (in) — I've always aspired to play in the Big Ten. I grew up in Nebraska. So, being a Nebraska fan, when I truly started to understand football, that was around the time the Huskers moved to the Big Ten. So I've always enjoyed watching Big Ten football out of any conference in the country. Another thing is it’s been an extremely consistent and disciplined program. That kind of structure, I feel like, could not only set up my football career in my future, but just develop me as a human being and as a man."
"I mean, it’s Texas — it’s one of the most prestigious programs in college football history. … They just won the Red River Rivalry down in the Cotton Bowl that’s huge there. I believe last year they had the second-ranked recruiting class. They’ve kind of been on a downward slope since '05, but I think they're finally starting to get back up. Winning is something that’s really important to me, and I feel like that’s something I could do there. It’s just a football culture down there in Texas — everything is about football."
"I felt at home, quite frankly, when I went down to Houston (during an unofficial visit in June). I felt camaraderie with the coaches and the players down there. I do, in fact, like the defense they run — it’s exotic and it’s different; I feel like that could make me a more versatile player, playing in that system. They’re one of the top programs in the American Athletic Conference, which is winning. Again, I really enjoy winning."
On Central Florida
"They haven’t lost a game in, what has it been, two years now? A little bit over two years? Scott Frost brought in a winning culture down there, and it’s obviously still there since they’re undefeated. Personally, I’d really like to see them get into the College Football Playoff this year. At least give them a shot. … It’s really nice weather down there. I like the defense; I like the coaches — they’ve been showing me a lot of love."
Lee said he hasn’t had direct contact with Kansas State, but that he’s received “over 100 letters” from the Wildcats.
Matthew Bain covers college football and basketball recruiting for the Des Moines Register. He also helps out with Iowa and Iowa State football and basketball coverage for HawkCentral and Cyclone Insider. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.