Kicker's recruitment a 'whirlwind courtship'

PK Daniel Lee, Park Hill South HS (TheInsiders)

If the process of recruiting is somewhat like courtship, Park Hill South High School kicker Daniel Lee's recruitment by Vanderbilt could perhaps best be termed a "whirlwind romance." Two short weeks ago, Vanderbilt wasn't even on his radar screen. On Monday, the 6-0, 185-pound Riverside, Mo. native became the Commodores' 20th and perhaps final commitment for the class of 2004. Lee verbally accepted an offer after narrowing his finalists to Vandy and South Florida.

If the process of recruiting is somewhat like courtship, Park Hill South High School kicker Daniel Lee's recruitment by Vanderbilt could perhaps best be termed a "whirlwind romance." Two short weeks ago, Vanderbilt wasn't even on his radar screen.

On Monday, the 6-0, 185-pound Riverside, Mo. native became the Commodores' 20th and perhaps final commitment for the class of 2004. Lee verbally accepted an offer after narrowing his finalists to Vanderbilt and South Florida.

"I E-mailed Coach Johnson a long time ago," Lee told TheInsiders.com Monday. "They weren't even looking at a kicker at that time, and I didn't really hear back from him."

But as a few more scholarships opened up at the semester break, the Commodore staff began toying with the idea of using one of those scholarships on a placekicker. Johnson contacted Lee on a Friday afternoon, Jan. 23, and later that very evening Lee was on a plane headed for Nashville for an official visit.

"We toured all the campus, and went out to dinner at Eddie George's restaurant," Lee said of his visit. "It was a really good time. I really liked the campus. It's a great place."

Aware that full scholarships for kickers are few and far between, Lee jumped on Vanderbilt's offer when it finally came over the weekend. Besides Vanderbilt and South Florida, Lee had ruled out several other schools that had offered him scholarships, including Pittsburgh, Utah State, Ball State and Montana State.

Several of those schools had asked him to "grayshirt" (delay admission until January), but at Vanderbilt, he won't have to. "My scholarship starts in August," Lee said.

Lee's high school statistics from his senior year won't blow anyone away -- the Riverside, Mo. resident connected on only 2-of-4 field goals, and was successful on 90% on PAT's, said Park Hill South head coach Ron Litchfield.

"Probably his biggest strength for us was his kickoff abilities," said Litchfield. "We don't always kick it deep-- we sometimes try to place the ball. And he does an exceptional job of placing it.

"When we asked him, he was very successful at placing the ball at about the 5-yard line. He was fairly consistent, with no wind or very little wind behind him, at putting it in the end zone."

Park Hill South kicked very few field goals, but that didn't seem to hinder Lee's college recruiting. After Lee drew early interest from national powers such as Penn State and Nebraska, his father assembled a DVD of Lee's kicks at camp, in practices, and in games. When coaches got a chance to see the DVD his father made, they were sold.

"He did some pooch-punting for us too," Litchfield said. "He had never punted in a game before this year. But our regular punter also played offense and defense, so we tried to rest him a little bit. Daniel was great placing the ball on punts-- not necessarily driving the ball, but placing it."

Lee excelled the past few summers at the Pelfrey Kicking Camps, a specialty camp which has produced NFL kickers like Atlanta's Jay Feely.

"Daniel has worked very hard in the classroom," Litchfield said. "He transferred here right before the beginning of his junior year and did a good job adjusting. He did everything we asked him to do. Actually, this year, if anything happened, he was going to be our emergency quarterback. He was willing to do that, even if it meant giving up a little time kicking."

The highlight of Lee's 2003 season came in week eight of the season, when he kicked a 30-yarder with 0:05 left to defeat St. Joseph's Central.

Relieved to have his college decision over with, Lee said the choice became a lot easier once Vanderbilt came through with its offer.

"I had to look at both sides of it and decide which one was best for me," Lee said. "Vanderbilt offered the best education. I had to sit back and look at both the football part of it, and what fit me the best."

Does Lee plan to compete for the punting job next fall as well?

"They also asked if I could punt, and I did a little bit of punting in high school," he said. "I'm definitely familiar with it, especially with directional punting. But they said they really wanted me for field goals and kickoffs."

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