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Lee Living, Loving The Dream


For most of the Green Bay Packers' roster, Friday morning's mini-camp practice was nothing special. Just another day of the same old, same old.

But for 20 rookies, it was much more. It was the start of their NFL careers, some that might last a decade, most that will be over in a few short years, even months.

Presumably every Packers rookie was aflutter with some excitement Friday, but certainly none were as unabashedly aglow as defensive tackle James Lee.

He wasn't near hyperventilation, as he had seemed last Sunday only minutes after the Packers selected him in the fifth-round of the NFL Draft, but as media swarmed Lee's locker post-practice Friday his excitement and awe were unmistakable.

"It's amazing, it's seriously amazing," Lee said with a broad smile. "It's a dream come true."

Lee's enthusiasm wasn't contained to some general notion of being in the NFL. It specifically included being in the Packers' locker room, where the space he calls home is only two down from a three-time NFL MVP.

"Do you see that?" Lee exclaimed. "I'm right next to Brett Favre. This guy is a legend right here. This guy is going to be in the Hall of Fame. It's really amazing."

Somewhat overwhelming, but equally endearing, Lee's astonishment isn't hard to understand.

After all, how many other players have gone from the College of the Redwoods in Eureka, Calif., to a backup role at Oregon State University, to two lockers down from one of the best football players of all time?

Not many. If any.

"I guess it's like a Cinderella story, working my way from the gutters all the way to here," Lee said.

True. Although Cinderella wore a much smaller slipper.

Standing 6-foot-4, Lee said that he weighed in at 333 pounds for his mini-camp physical. That's six pounds heavier than what was listed in his pre-draft bio. And it's 23 pounds more than he wants to weigh at the start of training camp, when he hopes to be "a little faster, a little trimmer, not carrying around a lot of the chunkage."

Lee is the first to admit that he had a less than ideal work ethic coming out of junior college, but he's just as quick to promise that those days are behind him.

Friday, he even recounted the pledge he made to GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman on draft day.

"I just told him that I'm going to work my hands to the bone," Lee said. "I'll bleed. You'd have to force me to get off the field. You'd have to drag me.

"I want to play. I never got my chance at Oregon State. Now (Sherman) gave me my chance and I'm going to show him what I've got."

Already, Lee has size and speed -- the latter certainly to increase as the former decreases. Over time he'll be taught the nuances of the game.

Sherman said it will take a few practices just to learn the proper footwork, and Lee called Friday's instruction so overwhelming "it was like they just threw us to the wolves."

But already facing adversity, Lee's plans are to slim down, not back down.

"This is a business," he said, "you have to go out there and handle it."

What Lee doesn't have to do, is stop enjoying it.

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