Last Friday, Woodrow Wilson quarterback Aran Lee threw two touchdown passes. He scampered 56 yards for another score.
His performance helped the Tigers (5-2) to a resounding West Jersey Football League Royal Division 36-0 win at Cumberland.
That performance helped Lee garner the most votes as Gridiron Gang Player of the Week.
But to understand Lee’s season at Wilson, one must dig much deeper than a boxscore or stat line.
The 17-year-old senior’s tale is one of courage, ambition and it’s helped a first-year coach bring his alma mater back to relevancy.
“When you see a kid flourish in those moments in time, we see the finished product,” coach Preston Brown said. “But we don’t see all they had to go through.”
Lee went through more than most children by the time he hit his teens.
The youngest of two boys, Lee looked up to his brother Will. A 15-year-old at Williamstown High School, Will Lee played basketball during his freshman year.
A possible starter the following year, Will struggled in spring ball. The point guard frequently forgot plays and lacked energy.
In early spring, a teacher phoned Will’s parents, Al and April B. Lee, to notify them that something seemed amiss with Will.
Al remembers the day the family discovered the harsh truth. On March 26, 2010, doctors told the Lees that Will had a tumor in his brain. It had gone beyond the stages of treatment.
Seven weeks later, the promising student-athlete died.
“My parents picked me up from school and told me,” Aran remembered. “I said, ‘That can’t be true.’ When we got to the hospital, I touched him and it became real to me.
“That moment sticks with me every day. It was a humbling experience in the sense I knew my brother was gone. I knew I had to step up and move through it. That realization really awoke in me and told me I’ve got to mature.”
Maturity became evident in the classroom. Al says his son was “the kid who walked home from school reading a book.” Studies and knowledge empowered Aran.
His thirst for better grades has kept his grade-point average around or above a 4.0 throughout high school. After his junior year at Sterling, Aran needed a bigger challenge.
He’d already taken most of the honors and AP courses the Somerdale school offered.
After a move to his cousin’s house in Camden, Aran enrolled in LEAP Academy. His slate this semester includes two engineering courses, two AP classes and an urban studies course he attends at Rutgers University-Camden.
“If I get a 98 on something, the next time I’m getting a 100,” Aran said of his mindset.
When football practice rolled around, the 6-foot-2 athlete showed up for his first day. Since he lived on the eastside of Camden, Aran was zoned to play at Wilson.
It was also one of Brown’s first days back on his alma mater’s fields since he graduated in 2003 before a four-year career at Tulane University.
“I had the opportunity to see him throw the ball around a little bit,” Brown said of their introduction. “He said he didn’t play much (quarterback at Sterling). I thought he had a unique skill set.
“I told him, ‘You have an opportunity to play here for us with me being a first-year coach. Everyone is starting from zero.’”
Aran forged an immediate bond with his new coach through a longstanding desire to be the man behind center.
“He wanted to be a quarterback since he was six years old,” Al said. “The coach asked and his arm shot up and said he wanted to be quarterback. He said, ‘Because I want to be in charge.’”
With Aran and Brown in charge, the Tigers have changed their ways.
The team won six games in the previous three years combined. This season, Wilson already owns five.
“When I first got the job, being a Wilson grad, the one thing I remember from playing for coach (Mike) McBride was when he said, ‘As long as there’s a Wilson guy here, the tradition will live on,” Brown said. “I understand what he meant now.
“It was all about bringing that certain connectivity back. Part of that is attributed to Aran. … I couldn’t be happier to have him be part of the Woodrow Wilson family.”
Aran says he immediately felt part of the school once he touched donned the black and orange, even if he attends classes elsewhere.
“From the first touchdown I scored in 7-on-7’s, it didn’t matter when I came from or that I didn’t go to Wilson,” Aran recalls. “It didn’t matter. I feel like these are my brothers. I bleed orange, man.”
With 14 total touchdowns this season, Aran’s mobility and accurate arm have helped Brown revive the program he holds so close.
Brown just recently learned of his quarterback’s past.
“He’s one of the most intelligent kids I’ve ever been around,” the coach said. “I make sure to sit down with my players one-on-one and he would always say he was determined to be successful because of what his brother went through. I never pressed him on it.
“It takes a strong kid.”
The biggest connection comes with the number on Aran’s jersey. He always wore 10 to serve as a tribute to Will’s No. 5.
Brown wondered about the digit obsession with his quarterback frequently in his ear about what jersey he’d wear.
When the younger brother of Jameer Bullard, a Tigers’ star who was killed in April, got 10 to honor his brother, Aran thought long and hard.
He took five.
“I’m playing for him,” Aran says. “My brother didn’t get a chance to do this. He didn’t get a senior year. Everybody might not have been there for me, but he was always there.”
Mark Trible; (856) 486-2424; email@example.com
GRIDIRON GANG PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Woodrow Wilson QB Aran Lee – 1,038 votes
Shawnee QB Michael Welsh – 530 votes
Vineland RB Daivon Seymore – 426 votes
Penns Grove WR Kimere Brown – 20 votes
Bridgeton WR Markquese Bell – 8 votes