JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -The realization hit Tyson Lee like a blitzing linebacker as he walked to practice Monday.
He is now the starting quarterback at Mississippi State, completing a journey both improbable and likely unbelievable to the dozens who told him he had no chance of playing out his childhood sandlot visions on a real Southeastern Conference field.
``I was like, 'Wow, here I am,''' Lee said. ``I used to come to Mississippi State and watch games, and here I am actually walking out to Mississippi State's football field about to practice as the quarterback. Before I stepped on the field, I said, 'Thank you, Lord.' It's been a long road.''
Snubbed by four-year colleges coming out of high school in Columbus, the National Honor Society member chose to go to Itawamba Community College to chase his football fancy. He was both an athletic and academic All-American last season. But the offers only trickled in from Championship Subdivision and Division II schools despite a gaudy 4,432 yards passing and 31 touchdowns in two seasons.
ed at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds.
So he took a chance, called Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom and asked to walk on at the school he grew up worshipping.
``We didn't have a scholarship for him coming out of high school,'' Croom said. ``We didn't have a scholarship for him immediately coming out of junior college. We told him when he came here he'd be given a fair chance and that's all he asked for.''
Given that chance, Lee has amazed his new teammates and coaches. He enrolled last January and immediately earned the backup spot behind incumbent starter Wes Carroll in spring practice.
With Carroll and the offense struggling mightily, Croom made the switch to Lee before the LSU game. The Bulldogs lost, but scored 24 points against a tough Tigers defense in their best offensive performance of the season.
Lee completed 17 of 26 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown. And he didn't commit a turnover. Croom saw enough that Lee will start Saturday's game against No. 13 Vanderbilt.
``If I feel like during the course of the game we need to make a change, I'll do that,'' Croom said. ``But it won't be because of a bad play or something like that. He doesn't have to look over his shoulder.''
It was only a few weeks back that Smelley and the Gamecocks (4-2, 1-2 SEC) heard a few boos at Williams-Brice Stadium from fans displeased the offense hadn't blasted past lesser opponents Wofford (23-13) and UAB (26-13).
Smelley showed his skills a week ago, passing for a career-best 327 yards and tying his career high with three touchdown passes. Smelley was recognized by the league on Monday and, if he continues playing at the same high level, might finally wipe out fan frustration.
``Yeah, it definitely didn't hurt'' getting the award, Smelley said Wednesday. ``Hopefully, I can keep getting better.''
He'll have to this weekend at Kentucky (4-1, 0-1), which has the country's fourth best defense.
Immediately following South Carolina's 31-24 win over the Rebels, Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier affirmed Smelley would start this week against the Wildcats.
Spurrier had not liked what he saw from his offense and his quarterbacks in much of South Carolina's first five games. The head ball coach would usually hold auditions during practice before announcing his QB choice for the following Saturday.
Smelley said the lack of drama this week didn't change the way he practiced. He's been confident all season long and simply wanted to continued working hard to improve.
``Looking forward to going out there and executing against Kentucky.''
HURTING TIGER: Auburn could be without the leader of its secondary against Arkansas.
Cornerback Jerraud Powers missed the second half of last weekend's Vanderbilt game with a hamstring injury, and coach Tommy Tuberville described him as doubtful for Saturday's game with the Razorbacks.
That would likely leave freshman Neiko Thorpe to make his first start against the Hogs and the Southeastern Conference's No. 2 passing offense.
``Jerraud plays a big role in the secondary,'' safety Mike McNeil said. ``He's one of the best players out there. We know when he goes down that we can't panic, because one man doesn't make a team.''
Thorpe has seen significant action, playing in every game, with 12 tackles and four pass breakups - two of them coming against Vandy.
``I think the more and more he's played, he's gotten his confidence up,'' McNeil said. ``I feel confident with Neiko on the field. It's all about him getting in a rhythm and getting a feel for the game.''
Powers leads the team with two interceptions and is third with 26 tackles. He has started 19 consecutive games. Along with Thorpe, freshman cornerback D'Antoine Hood has also played in every game.
bout the pressure the Tigers' defense hoped to put on Florida quarterback and 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.
Jean-Francois told the Orlando Sentinel that if LSU defenders had a chance to tackle Tebow this Saturday in Gainesville, they would try their best to ``take him out of the game.''
``Every lineman wants to get a good hit on a Heisman Trophy winner,'' Jean-Francois added.
After those comments were published, Jean-Francois said they had been misinterpreted.
``We never go into any football game trying to hurt a player from the other team,'' the 6-foot-3, 289-pound junior said in a written statement released by the team. ``We have great respect for Tim as player and a competitor. By taking him out of the game, I meant as a defense we are going to try to make him ineffective. I'm sorry that my initial comments were interpreted another way.''
AP Sports Writers Pete Iacobelli in Columbia, S.C., Brett Martel in Baton Rouge, La., and John Zenor in Auburn, Ala., contributed to this report.

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