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Robert Lee : Sophomore Has Run Into Hearts of Santa Ana Fans

December 13, 1985|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | Times Staff Writer

For the Santa Ana High School football team, Robert Lee's 71-yard touchdown run against El Modena last Friday night provided the winning score in the Saints' 14-13 victory over the Vanguards.

For Jack White, a spectator in Santa Ana Stadium that night, Lee's long run stirred memories of another great Santa Ana running back--his son, Myron White, who starred at Santa Ana Valley from 1972-74.

"Some of the older guys I go to games with who have seen all the great runners try to compare Robert to people from the past, such as Isaac Curtis, Wilbert Haslip and Myron," White said. "That run definitely brought back a few memories.

"Both (Robert and Myron) have good speed. Myron was more of a deceptive runner, but Robert has more power straight ahead. Myron probably broke off more long runs, but Robert is better on the short runs."

This is only the beginning. Football fans in Santa Ana will have two more years to reminisce about those great runners and argue who was best, because Lee, a 5-foot 11-inch, 200-pounder, is a sophomore.

Lee, who has rushed for 371 yards and 3 touchdowns in 3 playoff victories to lead the Saints into Saturday night's Southern Conference championship game against Mission Viejo, and who already is being heralded as Orange County's next great running back, is 15 years old.

On the field, Lee carries himself with all the composure and confidence of a veteran. He has delivered most of the big plays for the Saints during the playoffs, and he hasn't made any mistakes. Santa Ana has practically discarded its passing game in favor of handing the ball to the sophomore.

Off the field. . . . well, you have to remember, he is 15.

Dick Hill, Santa Ana coach, describes Lee as "a jovial kind of guy." Eric Turner, the Saints' quarterback, says Lee is "always in a good mood. Everything is fun to him."

Lee loves to crack jokes around practice, do his Eddie Murphy and Mr. T impersonations, talk about the girls, have some fun and laughs.

"When anything happens in the back of the room, you don't need to look around," Hill said. "You just need to call his name."

Hill, who has been coaching in Santa Ana for more than 25 years, has seen those types come and go.

"They usually learn to control (their behavior) and have a personality that everyone loves, or they get in trouble," he said.

Last year, Lee often was in trouble. He drew a three-day suspension for slapping a girl who had slapped him.

"She slapped me because I was laughing after a guy had cussed her out, and I slapped her back," Lee said.

Lee, who also did his share of time in detention hall as a freshman, is the first to admit that he's immature.

"I've never grown up," he said. "When the time comes to grow up, I'll grow up."

This year was a good time to start. Though he still exhibits his jovial demeanor, he's learning when to get serious. And he's no longer a regular on the detention list.

"Robert has shown some real improvement this year," said Gerald Arriola, Santa Ana principal. "He's a nice kid, a lot of fun, and a bright young man."

Credit Lee's mother, Charlie, for setting Robert on the right track. She threatened that if he didn't straighten up, she was going to send him to Santa Ana Valley.

That's where Lee should have gone in the first place. He lives about a half-mile from Valley, well within the school's enrollment boundaries, but he obtained an intra-district transfer last year in order to attend Santa Ana.

The Santa Ana Unified School District's transfer policy states that a student may transfer to a school for any reason, subject to space availability.

"We don't even look at the reason, we just look at space," said Burt Lopez, director of child welfare and attendance. "If space allows the student to transfer, we say yes, if not, we say no. It's a rather liberal policy."

Although Santa Ana has been experiencing overcrowding in recent years, Lopez said: "There's always a little bit of room."

Lee wanted to go to Santa Ana because he didn't think he'd like Valley's academic program.

"Some kids I know there got real bad grades," he said.

And when the prospect of going to Valley, which has won one football game in the past two years, hit home, Lee decided to knuckle down.

He's been staying out of trouble, and he's also beginning to realize that he has more responsibilities at home. His father, Robert Sr., died in February, 1984, of sclerosis of the liver.

"I don't go to postgame parties," Lee said. "They're not for me. I gotta come home and see how my mom's doing."

Lee is concentrating more on his schoolwork in order to raise his grade-point average, which is 2.4. He says he has to earn a 3.0 to have any chance at a college scholarship.

And, he plans to start a weight-training program after basketball season to improve his strength. He will play junior varsity basketball once football ends Saturday night.

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