By Pete Ruden
Tanner Lee knew what he had in Lincoln before he set foot on the Nebraska campus for the first time.
From the moment he got off the plane at the Lincoln airport, the former Tulane quarterback was taking pictures with Husker fans and was recognized in the town.
Now, he’s getting ready to lead his team into a new era following the graduation of four-year starter Tommy Armstrong Jr.
“I got a lot of faith that this is going to be OK with this guy,” head coach Mike Riley said. “People initially felt comfortable with him. You could tell that was the case.”
After his days at Tulane, before he took the reins as the Huskers starting quarterback, Lee was determined to help his team win any way he could.
Forced to sit out because of NCAA transfer rules, Lee took pride in his job as the scout-team quarterback, giving his team looks and helping them prepare for the next opponent. He won the team’s Offensive Scout Team MVP award in the process.
That work ethic and determination has helped him earn the respect of his teammates and coaches.
“If he wasn’t the way he was, I don’t think he would’ve won over the locker room as fast as he did,” linebacker Chris Weber said. “He’s just a good guy. He’s a guy who guys want to be friends with, want to hang out with. As a quarterback, I think that’s something you need: somebody who can pull guys with him, who guys gravitate toward. He’s gonna be a leader of our team this year.”
Luckily for the Huskers, Lee has some experience going into games that most think he’ll lose. Tulane had its fair share of tough games when Lee was on the roster, and the same holds true this season with Nebraska.
Along with crossovers against perennial Big Ten East powers Ohio State and Penn State, the Huskers will also travel to Eugene, Oregon, to take on the Oregon Ducks in Week 2.
“I learned a ton at Tulane, just going through different types of adversity,” Lee said. “There’s a lot of good and bad that came along with playing there and a lot of positives I can take away that made me a better player.
“It’s difficult; you’re an underdog probably every game [at Tulane] … You get beat one week, you’ve got to start the next day on the next Saturday. Kind of putting things behind you, putting things in the past, and learning to move forward.”
Even though they lost two of their top playmakers at wide receiver, the Huskers bring back two exceptional players at that position in Stanley Morgan and De’Mornay Pierson-El to complement Lee.
On the other side of the ball, Nebraska will unveil a new 3-4 defense.
Along with Weber in the front seven, the Huskers return Aaron Williams and Joshua Kalu to anchor the secondary.
With a new quarterback for the first time in almost half a decade and a new defense, it’s a new era for the Cornhuskers.
They’ll face their challenges, but if one thing can be agreed upon, it’s that this should be an interesting year for Nebraska.
“It’s gonna be great; I can’t wait,” Lee said. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been lucky enough to play football, and I really can’t wait. I’m anxious for that first Saturday and to play in front of our fans.”