BATON ROUGE, La. — Jarrett Lee won't forget the 2008 season, when LSU fans mockingly inserted the words "pick six" between his first and last names.
The Tigers' newly promoted starting quarterback doesn't sound bitter about it, though.
"I don't want to say I was set up to fail," Lee said, reflecting on his interception-plagued redshirt freshman season, when he was thrust into the starting lineup because of a combination of junior Ryan Perrilloux's dismissal and sophomore Andrew Hatch's injury.
"Coming into this league and being in the SEC, it can be tough," Lee said. "Sometimes things happen and you've got to go in there and you've got to play and do what you can, and I don't regret 2008 at all. If anything, it made me a better person, a better player."
He will have to be a better player if fourth-ranked LSU is to fulfill its potential as a national title contender.
Only last Friday, Les Miles elevated Lee back to a starting role after police obtained an arrest warrant for Jordan Jefferson in connection with an Aug. 19 brawl outside a bar.
The arrest warrants on felony second-degree battery charges against Jefferson and reserve linebacker Josh Johns led Miles to suspend both players indefinitely, meaning LSU was without its starting quarterback of the previous two seasons, and with little more than a week to prepare for this Saturday's season opener against No. 3 Oregon in Arlington, Texas.
"This is not how you want to insert anyone into the quarterback spot," Miles said, but added, "If there is a guy that was baptized under fire, that had to come to the field very quickly and that had to learn on the run, that was Jarrett Lee."
In 11 games in 2008, including eight starts, Lee threw 16 interceptions, seven of which were returned for touchdowns, hence the "pick six" nickname. While quarterbacks are often told to have short memories, and to keep slinging the ball with confidence after an interception, Lee sees some value in reflecting back on the 2008 season.
"I just keep it in the back of my mind," Lee said. "I don't want those things to happen again."
There were some good moments that season as well, as Lee threw for 1,873 yards and 14 TDs, which is 400 more yards and double the touchdowns that Jefferson threw for as a junior last season.
"There were some games back in 2008 that I guess I had seen some moments where I knew I could make it happen, and so that's something, too, that I know I belong and I know I can make those plays," Lee said. "I've just got to stay focused and stay positive."
When Lee lost the starting job to Jefferson at the end of 2008, he said he thought about transferring and even talked about it with his father, who was also one of his coaches when he starred at Brenham High School in Texas.
"It was only a thought, something I never continued to talk about or wanted to do after 2008," Lee said. "I came here because it's a great tradition, a great staff here, you know, it's great people here. So I want to continue and finish out here at LSU."
Lee's loyalty began to pay off for him last season, when Miles chose to insert him into several games to relieve Jefferson and jump-start the Tigers' passing game.
Lee was 16 of 23 for 185 yards against Tennessee, leading most of a game-winning drive in the final minutes in which he completed clutch passes on both third-and-long and fourth-and-long.Comment on this story
The following game, Lee's 3-yard fade to Terrence Toliver with 6 seconds left lifted LSU to a dramatic victory at Florida. Later in the season, with the Tigers' clinging to a 3-point lead, Lee completed a 47-yard, third-down pass to Rueben Randle to help the Tigers cling to another dramatic win.
"The three games that he played significant football a year ago, he showed poise," Miles said. "He threw the touchdown pass at the end of the game against Florida. He was responsible for the drive that came down at the end of the game to beat Tennessee. And he made a third-and-long play late in the Alabama game that depicts a guy that plays in pressure situations."
Lee said he has worked hard the past two seasons on numerous aspects of his game. He said he has lost weight, which has helped him become a better scrambler. He said he is more mature, both emotionally and in his approach to studying and learning the game. He went so far as to say he is "tremendously different" from the player he was in 2008.
"I've been around and in this system for five years now," Lee said. "I've worked with these guys before, so it's not like I'm coming into the first team and everything is new to me."