Lee, of course, is the one Relf is trying to supplant. With just over a week until the season opener against Jackson State, the two are dead even in the eyes of first-year head coach Dan Mullen.
Relf has made up a ton of ground on Lee since the spring, and that’s partly because of Lee’s willingness to guide the redshirt sophomore along.
“Tyson, he’s a great guy. He helped me with the offense a little bit, watching film and just helping me on the little things,” Relf said.
Lee, a senior who started the final eight games of last season, can’t help but help Relf. A devout Christian who’s widely respected by his teammates, it would go against his nature to not aid a younger player.
“Helping, that’s what it’s all about,” Lee said. “That’s what I try to do in life – on the field, off the field – and that’s what I hope to continue to do throughout the season and the rest of my life.”
Whenever he’s asked about the competition, Lee has deferred to the coaches and their opinions. He’s put winning ahead of whatever personal ambitions he might have.
That doesn’t mean he isn’t trying to win the job.
“He’s a competitor, and he’s such a class guy that he’s going to help everybody,” said Mark Hudspeth, MSU’s passing game coordinator and receivers coach. “He wants to win and do whatever it takes to win.
“He would accept any role given to him, but I know this: He wants to be the starter, and he’s working every day to be the starter.”
Mullen has said that he’ll play at least two quarterbacks in the Sept. 5 season opener versus Jackson State, and he has no qualms playing a two-QB system. But Lee and Relf bring vastly different styles to the table.
Lee’s strengths tilt toward the intangibles: leadership, smarts, toughness, experience. His weaknesses: size, arm strength, size, playmaking ability, size.
He’s 5-foot-10, 200 pounds.
According to his receivers, though, Lee has added more zip to his throws.
“This is his offense in junior college and high school, and I think he’s taken it very well and ran with it,” center J.C. Brignone said. “He’s been a real big leader for us on offense.”
Relf’s strengths, conversely, are quite measurable: He’s got a great arm, a big body (6-3, 235), and mobility. But coaches want more consistency in his passing game, and he has no significant game experience.
“Chris will make some big-time throws, some real throws. And then he’ll come back and spike one into the ground from 10 yards away,” Mullen said. “And that’s something we’re just working on his footwork and his consistency at throwing the football.
“His playmaking and his decision-making and his leadership control of the offense is 100 times better than it was in the spring.”
Given his abilities, Relf’s the perfect fit for this offense. He’s built like a linebacker, isn’t afraid of contact, and can throw the deep ball.
During 2008 preseason camp, then-coach Sylvester Croom said of Relf that “he’s either going to perform at the level of (his) ability, or he’s not going to be around here.” This year, nobody is questioning Relf’s commitment to getting better.
“Chris is a workhorse,” Brignone said. “I think his confidence has really shot up, because now he’s kind of fitting right into this offense, and it really works for him.”
Relf said spending time on his footwork and throwing to receivers over the summer gave him that confidence boost. Plus, he has experience with the spread, having run it his senior year at Carver High School in Montgomery, Ala.
“It’s a greater comfort level,” Relf said.
Lee recently asked him about that increased confidence. “I understand things now,” Relf told him.
Part of that, at least, is due to Lee’s willingness to help teach him.
“We want to win football games,” Lee said. “So outside of who’s starting, who’s second string, we want to win football games. That’s our No. 1 goal.”
Contact Brad Locke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 678-1571.