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TCHS’ Donnie Lee signs to run with champion Florida Gators


NORTHPORT | Donnie Lee hopes to make a name for himself on a college campus with almost 50,000 students and perhaps do the same on a world stage. He knows the 2016 Summer Olympics will be in Rio de Janeiro, and he wants to be there as a competitor.

Lee, a senior at Tuscaloosa County High School, signed Friday to run track at the University of Florida. Lee set an AHSAA record in the 800 meters during the recent indoor season. TCHS coach Jeffrey McNealey said he expects Lee to run in the 400, 800 and 1,600 events and participate in relays during the outdoor season.

"It’s a day I’ve been waiting on my whole life, a day I’ve been working for my whole life," Lee said. "It’s a day my parents and my coaches and my entire support have been working on getting me to."

Lee will join a program that has won three straight NCAA indoor championships and the 2012 outdoor title. He plans to study a pre-law curriculum.

"The fact that I had the opportunity to go to the University of Florida is surely a blessing because it’s the best track team in the United States right now," said Lee, a basketball and football player at TCHS. "I’ll get to work with great athletes like Sean Obinwa; Ryan Schnulle; and Tony McQuay, who ran in the Olympics last year. I feel like being there and training with them is going to push me a lot more. As far as high school goes, I feel like knowing where I’m going to school and having all that taken care of will allow me to focus entirely on performing well this year for myself."

Lee said he spoke with University of Alabama’s Kirani James, an Olympic 400-meter champion, who told him to consider the "intangibles."

"Just about every school offers the same thing," Lee said. "They have the same opportunities. Honestly, it was the personnel at the University of Florida and the national championships that they just came off of. Essentially, they’re the Alabama of track and field. It was tremendous when I went down there to see those athletes, to see those Olympians, people who I look up to as role models actually at track practice. Being able to watch them, it was truly inspiring."

Lee and his family moved from Sacramento, Calif. In 2007, he was on an AAU 4x800 relay team that won a national championship. During the summer, he competed for Speed City and won the 800 in a national event in Orlando, Fla, and helped his team win the sprint medley relay.

In the recent AHSAA indoor championships, Lee won the 800 and placed second in the 400. He is the two-time AHSAA 800 champ outdoors.

Lee was 13 when he ran his first race for the TCHS varsity. Then he grew to 6-foot-3.

"We were eye to eye, and now I have to look up when I talk to him," McNealey said. "His height is an advantage because his stride is so much longer when other runners have to work harder and faster and take more strides to cover ground. He can do it effortlessly.

"I knew that with his potential he could go on to do great things. Just look at the results. First, he was driven for the school record here. Then he started thinking state championships. Then he started thinking Alabama state records. Now he’s thinking Florida and doing the same thing there. Our overall goal, even when he was in the ninth grade, was to see him in the Olympics. That’s what we’re shooting for."

 

Reach Andrew Carroll at andrew.carroll@tuscaloosanews.com or at 205-722-0223.