Lee Roberts was a signal caller of the Golden Eagles from 1995-1998. He took the Eagles to great heights, and continued the rich tradition of outstanding quarterbacks that have led Southern Miss throughout the years. Roberts in his four year career threw for 6,289 yards and 52 Touchdowns. He was also a part of one of the most memorable Bowl Games in Southern Miss history.
When asked to recall a few of his favorite memories as a Golden Eagle, he took me back to December 31st, 1997, the Liberty Bowl game against the Pitt Panthers.
“The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of summarizing Southern Miss football is total team effort and total team package, and that game where you saw dominance in offense, defense and special teams in the Liberty Bowl against Pitt,” he detailed.
“We were looked at as an underdog, and weren’t supposed to go in and do what we did that night. I take great pride in what our entire team did in that game. As an entire team, we scored in all three phases of the game on offense, defense, and special teams. That was what made that team especially fun, we could beat you in many ways.
“If you look back at that football team, it was hard nosed with a tough defense, we had some explosive offensive players, and we could beat you with special teams plays as well. That team had a unique chemistry and it just all came together that night and defined to me what Southern Miss football is all about.”
He also looked back to a special night where he got his first start and started his great run with the Eagles. It was a Thursday night and he certainly felt the jitters when his name was called.
“My opportunity to get my first start came against East Carolina on a Thursday night ESPN game,” he said. “I came into camp as a true freshman in 1994 and I needed to be redshirted. It was the right move because I just wasn’t ready. In 1995 I was moved to number 2 on the depth chart, and then in ‘96 we brought in a Junior College QB and I was moved to number 3.
“It was a great learning process for me and I just continued to work hard. My first opportunity to start was in October against East Carolina on Thursday night football. Again, if you look back, it was a total team effort because stats were not gaudy on any aspect of the game, but our defense was able to hold a powerful East Carolina offense to just 6 points. I commend my teammates for their support and the way they pushed me during that time. Coach Bower put together a great game plan on a short week and he surrounded a young quarterback, and to come out a winner in that one is one I’ll never forget.”
Roberts, as did so many of the great quarterbacks before him, fearlessly led Southern Miss into some of the most hostile stadiums in college football. Where most teams would enter just hope to survive, the Golden Eagles have a different approach on those types of games.
“We had our home games where we were supposed to win, and then we had our road games where we geared up to play the best in college football and we went in there expecting to win,” he said.
“In my career we played at Penn State, Florida State, the Swamp at Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, and Texas A & M. In those environments, what we would do as a team is to use their enthusiasm and their energy to motivate and pump us up. We would actually draw off of the opponents crowd.
“It would be easy to go into some of those environments and lay down and get waxed, but never would we do that. We were winners at heart. We win on the practice field and we won in the weight room and everywhere we went. That is why we expected to win anywhere we went, that is who we are at Southern Miss.”
Roberts also had the added responsibility of playing behind some of the greats of Southern Miss quarterbacks, and he talked about the challenge that presented to him.
“I think back to Coach Bower, Reggie Collier, and Brett Favre and so many of the others who have come through,” he said. “To be able to wear the black and gold as those guys did and represent this great University and each and every day I tried to do my best and give everything I had for this school.
“We wanted to make it a place where quarterbacks wanted to come to play and you see how Austin Davis continued that. I know that whoever fills that role this year will realize how special it is to be the QB at Southern Miss and will wear it with pride. It takes a great deal of leadership and an incredible amount of hard work. It is something that everyone really that puts on that uniform ought to feel the weight of as a player for this great program.”
As we celebrate 100 years, we’ll continue to talk with former Eagle greats week to week throughout the season. Stay tuned.