Now it's solely the NFL!
Getting a little anxious before finally being selected by Miami, Lee said it took some time to sink in that his dream of one day being drafted to play pro football is fast becoming a reality.
Gathered with family and friends to watch the draft unfold ... a loud cheer went up when it was announced on ESPN that Lee had been selected by the Dolphins.
"Miami was on the board," explained Lee. "I had just received a phone call from the front office asking 'if I would like to play for the Dolphins' and a feeling came over me that I can't explain. Then I heard on ESPN that Miami currently selects Mississippi State tight end Donald Lee with their fifth round pick.
"It was unreal. I was almost speechless, but I was very happy. My sister, Veronica, and brother, Sylvester, and my mother Linda, they all hugged me and my stepfather Curtis Wordlaw congratulated me. Everybody was cheering and shouting."
Lee quietly slipped outside for a few minutes to reflect on the moment as the celebration continued.
"I'll have to admit I was so happy that I reached up and felt a few tears rolling down my face," he said sincerely.
Lee said it wasn't like him to cry, being 6-4 and 255, but they were tears of joy!
"It was like 'Thank you God' because He has been so good to me and brought me a long ways, kept me injury-free, and I am thankful, because I've been blessed," added Lee. "I'm so grateful. It's like God answered my dreams."
It wasn't long before the phone starting ringing, call after call, friends getting in touch, teammates. A couple of former teammates now in the NFL got out their cell phones.
Former Mississippi State defensive lineman Ellis Wyms of the Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers called and "wished me good luck and gave me a few tips about playing in the NFL," noted Lee, who was named the Most Valuable Player on offense in the East-West Shrine Classic at San Francisco.
Denver defensive lineman Dorsett Davis of Mississippi State had hoped to see Lee drafted by the Broncos, and it appeared that the scenario might become a reality, until the Dolphins interceded.
"I visited Denver before the draft and talked with some of the coaches. They told me they were going to draft me if I lasted," explained Lee, a teammate of Davis and a fan of the Broncos and record-setting tight end Shannon Sharpe.
"I'm happy for Justin and Mario," pointed out Lee, a very caring and thoughtful young man. "They're both outstanding players on and off the field, great leaders," Lee said of the duo.
"Mario's been by and we talked about the draft and about perhaps playing against each other since Buffalo and Miami are in the same division," Lee said with a broad grin.
Lee is flying to Miami this week to discuss the agenda for the 2003 NFL season. It'll mark his first trip to the home of the Dolphins.
Maben teammate and longtime friend Randy Bell will also be visiting an NFL city this week, flying to Cleveland to meet with Browns officials to finalize a free agent pact.
"I'm so happy for Randy," said Lee of the Junior College All-American and leading rusher in the South Atlantic Conference at Carson-Newman, an NAIA Division III playoff team.
"We talked about playing in the NFL when we first started out under Coach Williamson at Maben," pointed out Lee.
"I remember going to talk with Coach Williamson about what it would take to play college football. He was on a tractor cutting the grass at L.M. Hamberlin Field. Coach Williamson gave me some excellent advice that has stuck with me."
Lee said he couldn't say enough to adequately describe how much his high school coach has meant to him.
"Coach Williamson is like a father figure. He's helped me so much," said Lee of his coach who told him about Mississippi State's summer football camps.
Lee said if he had it to do all over again that the only place for him would be Mississippi State.
"I was able to become a complete tight end, blocking and catching the ball, under Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill and offensive coordinator Sparky Woods," noted Lee. "I believe that has helped me in the long run.
"Coach Woods told me 'I had the tools to play in the NFL' and that stuck with me, inspired me."
Lee said MSU's 13th-year head man Jackie Sherrill is a great person, much more than just a football coach.
"Coach Sherrill has been more than good to me and my family," said Lee. "He's the most honest guy I've ever been around. He doesn't sugar coat things. He'll always tell you what's right for you, what you should do and what you shouldn't. He's always been so supportive. If I had it all to do over again, I'd sign with Mississippi State, for one reason, just to be around Coach Sherrill.
"I thank God for my opportunity," noted Lee. "Thankful that I'm going to Miami. I'll continue to stay humble. Hopefully, one day I'll come back and be the Mayor of Maben, give something back to my community, give some young player the same opportunity I've had."
Williamson is obviously supremely proud of Donald Lee, an outstanding student-athlete who in some ways has perhaps exceeded expectations.
"I'm so proud of Donald, so proud of Randy (Bell), too," said Williamson, who brought the Blue Devils a long way and is now in the process of building the newly-chartered West Oktibbeha County Timberwolves program.
"Donald Lee has meant so much to our school and community. He's a role model to so many young student-athletes and I've felt like, for several years now, that his future is in the NFL."
Lee said if it hadn't been for his mother and father, Coach Williamson, longtime Maben teacher Gwen Ware, Coach Sherrill, and others that the NFL might not have been there for him.
Drafted in the mid rounds, Lee said when he saw his name on the TV screen, "I felt like I was the first guy drafted because you're waiting, waiting and waiting and finally it happens.
"I'm just thankful that my name was called," added Lee, who is destined to have his name called many more times in what promises to be a bright future.
Don Foster, a veteran newspaper writer who is the Sports Editor for the Starkville Daily News, writes a weekly article for Gene's Page. He can be reached by email at email@example.com