Lee departs Georgia Tech; will transfer to FCS program
Georgia Tech was hoping former Hillside High School star Vad Lee would be its starting quarterback for the next two years.
Instead, Lee announced Friday that he plans to transfer to another school following a 7-6 season that ended with a 25-17 loss to Mississippi earlier this week at the Music City Bowl.
Lee’s transfer destination remained unclear Friday. As a redshirt sophomore, he would have to sit out a year and not be eligible to play at another FBS program until the 2015 season and would have only one year of eligibility remaining.
If he were to transfer to an FCS (formerly Division I-AA) program, he would be eligible to play this fall and have two years of eligibility remaining.
His former high school coach, Hillside’s Antonio King, said he has been working with Lee on details of his transfer and that Lee received his release from Georgia Tech on Thursday.
King is in Carson, Calif., where he is coaching wide receivers on the East team for Sunday’s Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl. Hillside senior star receiver Trevion Thompson is one of the players on the East team in the U.S. Marine Corps-sponsored event.
King said Lee will almost certainly transfer to an FCS program. “He already sat out a year, and he’s not going to do that again,” King said. “He’s looking at all his options right now.”
Asked if Lee was considering N.C. Central as a possible hometown landing site, King said, “No.”
Georgia Tech released statements Friday from Lee and coach Paul Johnson saying they appreciated the chance to work with each other, but the team’s spread offense was inconsistent during much of the season.
Johnson often publicly criticized Lee for making wrong reads and his teammates for missing blocks and failing to create space on the perimeter in the coach’s signature scheme.
Lee, who led Hillside to the state 4-A championship under King’s tutelage in 2010, had a disappointing season in his first year as Tech’s starting quarterback after seeing extensive playing time as Tevin Washington’s backup a year ago.
In 2012, Lee averaged 5.7 yards per carry in Tech’s triple-option, ground-heavy attack, but averaged only 2.8 yards per carry this season as a starter.
He did have some shining moments this season.
In a return home, he threw for four touchdowns and ran for another in a 38-14 win over eventual ACC Coastal Division champion Duke in September at Wallace Wade Stadium. In perhaps his best game of the season, he threw for two touchdown passes and ran for two more against Georgia in Tech’s 41-34 double-overtime loss in November.
Despite arriving for the bowl game in Nashville, Tenn., with the nation’s No. 4 rushing offense, the offense sputtered after a touchdown on its opening drive, and the Jackets trailed 23-7 early in the third quarter.
Ole Miss finished with 477 total yards. Georgia Tech finished with 298, its ground attack averaging just 3.1 yards on 49 attempts.
“We never got in sync on offense at all, never really got into any kind of rhythm,” Johnson said. “It was just kind of haphazard. We hit some plays here and there, but nothing to gain with any consistency.”
Losing to Ole Miss was painful for Lee, but the disappointment of blowing a 20-point lead to Georgia five weeks ago hurt even worse.
He was particularly despondent that the Jackets’ fifth-year seniors went 0-5 against the hated Bulldogs. Georgia Tech has lost 12 of its last 13 to Georgia, including seven straight at Bobby Dodd Stadium.
“I can imagine how (the seniors) feel right now not being able to beat Georgia,” Lee said. “That game matters a lot here and it was special. The game was special with a great atmosphere and we really wanted to win.”
The Jackets’ success in recent bowl games hasn’t gone much better. They have lost five of six under Johnson and eight of nine overall.
Georgia Tech’s offensive struggles against Ole Miss continued a recurring theme with a few bursts of success mixed in with longer lulls of frustration.
In the closing minutes at the Music City Bowl, Johnson took the ball out of Lee’s hands, calling for a reverse pass by reserve receiver Corey Dixon, who didn’t have a run, a pass or a catch this season.
The play resulted in a 15-yard fumble and a safety.
When Georgia Tech got the ball back, only 37 seconds remained, and Lee had one last chance but threw an interception on the first snap.
“We were playing in spurts and really couldn’t finish,” Lee said. “That’s been the thing the whole year. I feel like we were moving the ball and were doing some good things, but we just didn’t finish.”
The Jackets are likely to open spring practice with Justin Thomas, a rising sophomore, listed atop the depth chart at quarterback with Tim Byerly No. 2.
Also in the mix will be freshmen Ty Griffin, who was redshirted in 2013, and Matthew Jordan, who’s expected to enroll this semester.
NOTES — Thompson, a four-star college prospect, has yet to make a verbal commitment to any school, King said. Fellow four-star target RB Donté Thomas-Williams of Hillside, has reportedly cut his list of prospective schools to three — N.C. State, Florida State and West Virginia — but hasn’t made his choice yet, either. ... Thomas-Williams was in Orlando, Fla., Friday where he played in the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl at the Citrus Bowl stadium. ... He and Thompson are reportedly scheduled to make official visits to West Virginia on Jan. 24.
Hillside defensive back Kalen McCain committed early to N.C. State and was scheduled to move into his dorm room Friday, King said. McCain graduated from Hillside in December and will take part in N.C. State spring football drills as an early enrollee.
— Staff writer Mark Donovan and the Associated Press contributed to this report.