These days, Xavier Lee’s practice routine is becoming akin to what he has done during each of Florida State’s games this season – wait and watch.
While Chris Rix and Wyatt Sexton have bounced between running the first and second units in scrimmages, Lee stands on the sidelines with fellow freshman Drew Weatherford waiting for the short conditioning session that precedes the team’s dismissal at the end of every practice.
“It’s definitely frustrating, very frustrating,” Lee admitted.
“Especially after three years of starting every game and getting almost all the reps in practice. I don’t want to say that I’m losing it, but it’s hard to stay on top of my game when I don’t get a chance to throw in practice. It’s real difficult to sit there and watch.”
Lee passed every test under center at Seabreeze, where he set the Florida high school career records for passing yardage, completions and touchdown passes on his way to earning Mr. Football honors as a senior.
This season, only his patience has been tested. The Seminoles have played four other quarterbacks this season, electing to give Lee a year to learn the system and ensure that his four years of eligibility will be spent when he’s most needed.
Taking a redshirt sounded like a good idea in August when it was assumed that this would be the long-awaited year that Rix – a fifth-year senior – would shake his error-prone ways and have a breakout season.
Instead, Rix and Sexton have combined for nine touchdown passes against ten interceptions and have been juggled in and out of the starting role.
Now that this is the way it has panned out is Lee sure the right decision was made?
“Not really,” he said.
“I’m an athlete and I want to play but I guess if the coaches think it what’s best for me is to sit out then I’ll have to sit out. In my heart I want to be out there.”
Lee hasn’t practiced in live situations since the week leading up to the Seminoles’ Oct. 9 game at Syracuse. It took ankle injuries to Rix and Weatherford to get Lee into action and even then he was just splitting time reps running the second unit with walk-on Tommy Keane.
The reason: Despite his season-long quarterback struggles, FSU coach Bobby Bowden has been adamant about keeping the redshirt on Lee.
“We are going o try to hold him out if we can,” Bowden said this week, repeating his stance.
“He is getting what he needs which is a lot of work without having to get in the game and make a play. He needs reps and he’s getting them.”
When Rix went down with an ankle injury Sept. 25 against Clemson, Weatherford was called upon to back up Sexton the following week against North Carolina. After playing just one snap, Weatherford rolled his ankle on a bootleg.
Coaches felt Weatherford had a better grip than Lee on the center exchange and understood FSU’s timing-oriented passing schemes and drops, both elements that weren’t used in Seabreeze’s shotgun spread attack.
“They have a fine program over there but how much they were concentrated on steps on routes and all this type of stuff, I don't know,” FSU quarterbacks coach Darryl Dickey said earlier this season.
“That has been a little bit of a challenge for him, this route and this and this. The different drops and everything has been a little bit of a challenge. But has done well with all of it, he really has. He’s extremely talented.”
Lee says his understanding of the FSU offense has come along “pretty well but it doesn’t help that I don’t get any reps at all in practice”.
“Watching film, I’ll sit there thinking I could make this pass better or make this read better and out at practice watching knowing I could make his pass better or make that read if I was getting an opportunity is tough. I guess I’ll just have to wait until I get my chance.”
With the departure of Rix in December, Lee will likely battle with Sexton and Weatherford for the starting job once spring drills open. He will welcome the chance.
“My thought process is to go out there and work harder than anyone else because I want that job,” he said. “I just have to show the coaches and everyone else I can do it once they put me in that position.”