E.A. Sports Today

Comeback Nice-Lee

Piedmont leading rusher Stanley shows no sign of leg injuries that might have retired others

Piedmont running back Lee Stanley leaves one Colbert County defender in the dust and tries to get around another in last week's playoff game. (Photos by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

Piedmont running back Lee Stanley leaves one Colbert County defender in the dust and tries to get around another in last week’s playoff game. (Photos by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

PIEDMONT – Watching Lee Stanley run through opposing defenses this year you would never suspect two years ago he had a major injury that might have left other players thinking about doing something else.

But the junior running back has come back stronger than ever and been a big part of the Bulldogs’ continued success.

Going into Friday’s Class 3A state quarterfinal against region rival Weaver, he is Piedmont’s leading rusher with 1,414 yards and 14 touchdowns, clearly answering the question of where the Bulldogs would find the offense lost with the graduation of lead back Darnell Jackson.

Given Stanley’s level of productivity, it seems hard to imagine two springs ago he suffered two broken legs in what can only be described as a freak injury during the track season.

“If you saw Lee today you would not know he had an injury,” Bulldogs coach Steve Smith said.

The spring of his freshman year he suffered tibia plateau fractures in both legs while competing in the triple jump at the sectional track meet at Fort Payne. He hit the board at full speed and felt something strange and then tried to compensate on the rest of the run. It’s an injury Smith said he had seen only one other time in his years at Piedmont.

Stanley was confined to a wheelchair for nearly two months, but was back on the football field midway through the next season and even got some carries in the state championship game.

“He’s an extremely tough kid,” Smith said. “I’ve been fortunate to coach a lot of great running backs the last 22 years. Lee doesn’t have that breakaway speed a few of them had, but he has as good a vision and lateral mobility as any back I’ve ever coached.

“He’s not going to be the 4.4 40 guy, but he is super quick in the hole and shifty. He’s got all the attributes of a great back and as the year went on his confidence continued to rise. He’s tough, physical and his play has been a big part of our success.”

Stanley was unavailable to comment on his comeback as the Bulldogs have made players off-limits for interviews during the current phase of the playoffs that involves all four teams from Region 5. The Piedmont-Weaver winner draws the Ohatchee-Randolph County winner in next week’s state semifinals.

Smith said the injury never dampened Stanley’s attitude and spirit, taking the approach injuries happen and players have to put them in their rear-view mirror. He was cleared to play football midway through the season and it took time to return to playing shape, but he did see action in the Bulldogs’ run to the state championship. He had two carries for 18 yards in the title game against Bayside Academy.

In the first two rounds of the playoffs this year he has 376 yards and four touchdowns. He went for 191 yards last week against Colbert County.

“We figured he would get back but he got back faster than we thought,” said Mark Mitchell, the Bulldogs’ track coach and football assistant. “You can’t tell now anything has ever been wrong. A lot of time that happens you worry if they have a good enough attitude, but he did every single thing he had to do.

“If you watched our games the last couple weeks he’s turned it on, another gear. The other night he was phenomenal. Without Lee Stanley I don’t know if we’re where we are.”

It starts when they’re young

One of the reasons the Bulldogs have been so successful over the years is they have a tradition of winning that starts when they’re pups in the youth feeder program.

The Piedmont team that won this year’s Appalachian Youth Football League A-Team title has won four straight age-group titles going back to their B-Team days, with a 40-0 record in league games. The team is 46-1-1 overall in that same span.

Since it started playing together an AYFL C-Team in 2010, this group, which will be next year’s Middle School team, is 74-8-1 with four championships, two runner-up finishes and seven playoff appearances. The team’s core of Jack Lamey, Max Hanson, Caedon Ooten, Landen and Braden McDaniels and Rhett Alford has been together from the start.

Since 2010, the Piedmont varsity team is 80-11 overall and 48-2 in region play with two state championships and five region crowns. Last year’s state champions cut their teeth in this program and the eighth graders brought up to the varsity this year were in the program three years ago.

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