A Sit-Down with Carl Lee of Legends Building Legends

As Part of the Heroes of Change Podcast

Jeremy Turner, Founder and Managing Director of EPIC Mission:

Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the Heroes of Change podcast from EPIC Mission. This is Jeremy Turner, founder and managing director of EPIC Mission, and I’ll be your host.

Here on the podcast, we are highlighting the trials, victories, and applied wisdom of our community change agents, unsung heroes, and those who empower them to #BeTheChange across Appalachia and beyond. We seek to inspire and equip everyday heroes, just like you, to take on our greatest challenges because together, we are the change. 

For today, I’m really happy, thrilled, and ecstatic to welcome my friend, Carl Lee, to the show. Before we get to him, I want to read just a little snippet about Carl. Carl is a West Virginia native and resident, former South Charleston High School football star, Marshall University stand-out, and Minnesota Vikings top 50 player.

With 12 years playing in the NFL and 10 years as a head football coach, Carl has a strong desire to assist in guiding our West Virginia youth down the proper path to success through his new organization, Legends Building Legends (LBL). LBL is a collaborative effort between Carl and NFL hall of famer, Marshall football great and fellow West Virginian, Randy Moss.

As a community-based initiative led by those who have already overcome the challenges along the journeys to success, leveraging the power of sports to connect people and train up the next generation of community legends. Awesome stuff. Thankfully, I’m a little familiar with what’s going on there, but Carl, everybody has got a bio, so take a minute and tell us a little bit more about what you would like us to know about you and the work that you’re doing that goes beyond what I just read there.

Carl Lee, Co-founder of Legends Building Legends

Let me start by … Kind of as you talked about, “Everybody has a story behind the bio,” when people look at 12 years, 50 greatest, Pro Bowls, and all those kinds of things, what they really don’t know is I was the guy that everybody said wouldn’t get there, more or less even have a chance to make it and/or play. I was almost cut in my rookie season because a young man by the name of Melvin Brown hurt his knee and that was the only reason that I actually made the initial roster for the Vikings. Then after that, what they used to call “move week,” was when guys come off Injured Reserve, they have to make room on the roster. 

It’s Friday practice, the third game going into the fourth game of the season, and my defensive back coach walks by me and says, “Hey. We’re probably going to cut you on Monday if you don’t play well in the game.”

Obviously, the first question is, “Am I going to play?” At that point, I had not even been on the field.

He said, “I don’t control that,” so my fate was kind of sealed at that point.

The very first kick off of the game by the guy I backed up on special teams, kick cover and front cover, tore his achilles fronbone. I ended playing the rest of the day and had four or five solo tackles. Bud Grant was a big guy on special teams, so I ended up making it. Along with that, my third season, I actually got cut for four days. I was on my way to Pittsburgh when the cornerback, who they kept for me instead of me, had a really bad play on the screen. He just kind of ducked out of it. At that point, Pete Carroll is now the defensive back coach. Pete just simply asked him why he turned down the play. He said, “It’’s pre-season. I didn’t want to get hurt.”

That probably wasn’t the best answer, and they ended up cutting him. They contacted me on Sunday. I signed on Monday, and I started on that following Sunday. Then, that’s where my career goes. That bio … If someone thinks it’s impressive or it’s pretty good, the truth behind that is it took a lot of different things. What I say to people about that when I tell that story is, “Are you ready? Are you ready when the opportunity comes?,” because a lot of times you give up and you think that you’re not going to make it. You don’t have the confidence to stay prepared. If I wasn’t ready each opportunity to get in to play, I’m not going to make it. My bio does not read like that. That’s the story behind the bio for me.

Jeremy Turner:

How much of success do you think is mental and how much is physical, whether it’s NFL or something else?

Carl Lee:

I think it’s mental. I’d say there’s a ton of mental sides of it that you have to believe. I use arrogance not as a negative word, but there’s a certain amount of arrogance. I’ve got to be able to look at you, assess you, and try to figure out whether or not I’m as good as you. How do I need to outwork you? I’ve got to be able to believe in my head that I can do that, so whatever your work ethic is, I’ve got to top that. To me, that’s the mindset. That mindset, the mental piece, pulls in the physical piece. You’ve got to put in the work. When you start talking about being the best person at a high school, there’s a billion high schools across the country. Being the best high school athlete at your school, in the county, or in the state, that’s not big enough. You haven’t accomplished anything, yet. Sometimes, we use a negative side of arrogance and think, “Oh, because I’m the best kid in the school, that means something.” I wasn’t the best player on any of my youth football teams. I was not the best player in middle school or junior high back in the day. I wasn’t the best player in high school, and I wasn’t the best player in college. By the time I was out of all of those and by the time it was time to leave and go to the next step, I was prepared to make that next jump.

Jeremy Turner:

You and I have had a lot of opportunities to talk about things and people in your life. Sonny Randle is a name that some people listening to this may know. Do you want to talk about Sonny and the role that he played in your development?

Carl Lee:

Yeah. I’ll give a little bit of background on Sonny Randle, and I’ll go into the impact that he had on me. Sonny Randle was an NFL player, wide receiver, who played for the St. Louis Cardinals, which tells you how far back that goes. He played in the 60s, and it took Jerry Rice to break his receiving records. I’m sure a lot of people will know that name, so that’s how impressive his stats were. He was also the coach for Eastern Carolina, the team that Marshall played prior to the plane crash. He was on the opposing sideline the night of the plane crash at Marshall. When he came to Marshall, he was my second visit to Marshall. I had taken the first visit, and I wasn’t impressed. I was like, “No. I’m not coming here,” and Sonny came in a week later and brought me back.

Supposedly, I was his first recruit. He clearly had done some research on me, because one of the first things he said to me was, “Okay, so I hear you have these dreams about playing in the NFL,” and for me, my mom always taught me you have to be able to say it if you’re going to believe it. I always would talk about, “I want to play in the NFL.” It was pretty notable I didn’t know he knew it. He became the first person, other than my mom and my dad and maybe my family … And I don’t know even how my brothers and sisters thought about it … But he was the first person outside of my blood family to make the case like I could do it.

He said to me, “Son, here’s what I’ll tell you. If you come here and you’re good enough, I’ll at least get you a try out.”

That was such a guarantee to me, because I felt like, “Okay. I’m going to get good enough. I’m going to work.” We won maybe eight games or so over my four years, but when I came in … Again, my confidence could come off extremely arrogant. I guess, sometimes I wasn’t running around saying, “Oh, I’m so good. I’m going to play in the NFL.” I was just saying I was going to play in the NFL. I guess when somebody says that, and you’re saying that at Marshall University when you’re not winning that many games, people look at you like, “What’s he even talking about?” I didn’t start until the third game of the season, but I ended up having a really good freshman year. I was freshman of the year on the team, and all these kinds of different awards and stuff. I was super excited, so I was thinking, “When I go into the coach’s meeting after the season, he’s going to be telling me all this good stuff. I couldn’t wait to get there.

I walk in, I sit down, and he is sitting there. He had this real imposing … He just seemed so powerful in his seat. He sort of looks at me, and he says, “How many guys do you think on this football team will play on Sunday?”

You don’t want to say you’re nobody, but I was like, “I don’t know. Maybe two or three.”

He says, “How many guys in the conference that we played against do you think will make it?”

I was like, “I don’t know. Maybe 10 or so. I don’t know.”

He said, “Let me just help you. It’s probably not going to be very many, and if you think that you’ve done enough to play on Sunday this year just because you’ve got a few awards or something like that … You’re not good enough, yet.”

I’m thinking, “What’s good enough.” He did that to me all three years. Every single year, he would always remind me, “Oh you’re all-conference and you’re all this. Well that means nothing. There’s a ton of guys who have been all-conference out of Marshall, and they’re humble. They’re sitting at home.” I couldn’t understand why he kept doubting me. I got big from one touch down in my senior year. I’m kind of on my way, and then he literally meets me at the hash mark after I get beat. I get beat on the opposite end of the field, and he literally meets me at the hash mark and tells me, “Son, that’s it. You blew it. You’ll never make it.”

In my head … I’m not saying this to him, but in my head I’m like, “This was the first touchdown all year. It’s the first touchdown I’ve given up all year.” Then, I was so petrified to go in to see him in the meeting because I’m thinking, “The scouts and none of that stuff even matters now because of that touchdown. That’s going to be it.” He told me, “Son, let me just tell you this. Not only are you going to make it, but you’re going to be good at it.” I didn’t even really know what to say, but those words meant so much to me and inspired me to put in all of the work that I put in. I put in a lot of work because I didn’t want to let him down. I understood exactly at that point what he had done.

Jeremy Turner:

He was keeping you hungry and humble.

Carl Lee:

Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely.

Jeremy Turner:

He’d likely seen enough of the superstars who were superstars in their own head and let that get to them.

Carl Lee:

Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely.

Jeremy Turner:

He was obviously an inspiration for you for a long time, but growing up before you met Sonny, who inspired you? Where do you find your inspiration nowadays?

Carl Lee:

Robert Alexander was the guy. I was a freshman and he was a senior in high school. I trailed him through youth sports through junior high through high school, and he was being the best back in the nation coming out of high school. Some of the top, most notable coaches came to South Charleston High School to talk to him and to see him. He was the guy who taught me how to train and the relevance of training. He used to ride his bike to Kanawha City from Spring Hill, which is on the west side of South Charleston. It used to be Spring Hill and Charleston, but now it’s just South Charleston over beyond Thomas Hospital, and all that kind of stuff on that end … He used to ride his bike to Kanawha City. The first thing I wanted to do was get a bike and ride to Kanawha City.

Anything that he would do I wanted to do. He taught me about training. He taught me not to drink. He taught me not to smoke. He used to tell me all these kinds of things. Life changed on him. He had some very difficult times for him. He ended up going to WVU and had some issues around drugs, injuries, and all of that. We’ve had lots and lots of conversations since that. One of the conversations that I had with him was that all of the things that he told me I appreciated and that I know his life was tough. His dad passed away, and being at WVU and getting hurt … All of those things happening at one time. I can’t say I understand why that happened, but I see what happened and what his reasonings were.

I was disappointed in him, and I told him, “I was disappointed because you helped make me the player I was, and I never got the chance to be on the field with you and be even. I deserve the right to tackle you. I deserve the right for you to run over me. I wanted the opportunity to show you what you did. I wanted that opportunity and you didn’t give it to me.” People don’t understand why I still praise him, because they say if you can touch one person, you’ve done something great. For that one person, if I’m the only person that he touched, I appreciate it. He did something well for me. He did something that changed my life. I owe him that praise in spite of his faults.

Jeremy Turner:

Seeing how he came before you and then seeing how things ended up for him, is that part of what drives you to do what you do now?

Carl Lee:

Yes, because I wasn’t him. I didn’t get those coaches coming to see me. I realized that my success in the league or at the pro level was greater than his, but yet he was the best back in the nation coming out of high school. Kids now that aren’t the best guy in the country, they can be like me, but they don’t know. They think that the guy that’s the number one guy now, the process is that guy will be the number one guy when he goes to college, and then he’ll go and go to the pros. It doesn’t really work like that.The kid that’s 155 pounds graduating from high school, reports to Marshall at 164, leaves there at 184, and plays at the NFL level at 188 … That was a nobody and that was just another guy on the team that my defensive back coach in 11th grade says to me, and I loved him to death … He was a great coach.

He told me he was going to put me at safety until they found somebody. I’m the kid who is at youth football, my first year going up for youth football, and we’re at the first game. I don’t have a helmet and I quit. My dad said, “Okay.” I guess he was bothered by it too, but he was like, “Okay, but you’ll never quit again.” The next year that I came back and from then on, I always played. Look where I got. The parents that are going crazy at the kids at youth football because they’re not playing, I was a guard. I was an offensive guard. You can’t move any further from a guard to a defensive back during the process. It’s all about just the lessons.

Every level of sports, for me, was a lesson. I did the work. I played every single game that we played at Marshall like I wanted to play on Sunday. My role on my football team would have been to be the best player that I could be. I don’t know if you, as the other safety or the other corner with the quarterback or the running back … I don’t know what you’re thinking. I don’t know that, “We’re down 20 to nothing. You’re going to shut it down.” I don’t know that. What I know though is my role is to fulfill my dream. People would transfer and say, “I’m going somewhere else.” I was playing, and I was playing for a guy who was in the NFL. I’m not leaving.

Jeremy Turner:

You obviously knew what it took to get there. 

Carl Lee:

Yes. I wanted that lesson. Yes. Absolutely. I needed somebody who knew. I wanted to be close. The problems that we have with parents is they’re looking at the name. It doesn’t matter what they …It’s the work that we can all see. If you’re looking at your kid and he’s not playing, ask yourself, “What’s the work he’s putting in?” Don’t look at who’s playing.

Jeremy Turner:

Right.

Carl Lee:

Just look at that work because that work is going to build your bio.

Jeremy Turner:

The things that you can control, right?

Carl Lee:

Yes.

Jeremy Turner:

You’ve got your mindset and your work ethic, and that’s it.

Carl Lee:

That’s all you’ve got.

Jeremy Turner:

Your mindset was developed though. It’s like you embraced this “I’m an underdog” mentality and “I don’t really care what you think. I’m just going to go do my thing. I’m going to work my tail off.” Where do you think that mental toughness and that mindset was cultivated in you? Where did that come from?

Carl Lee:

It was really kind of easy because it came from my mom. Again, maybe even in part my dad. My dad was tough on me. We used to sit down the day after a game. We didn’t address the game on game day, game night, or whatever, but the next day we’d sit and have breakfast. We would talk about specific plays that I missed. I couldn’t understand. I could have been the player of the week in high school, and he’s still talking about the plays that I missed. I couldn’t understand it. It used to make me mad because, “What about these plays?” I look now, in hindsight, what he knew was, “You can’t have those plays.” He knows that they’re going to happen, but he didn’t want me to think about the plays and just thinking, “That’s okay.” It’s the bad plays that will keep you out.

Looking at my mom, she used to work at Stone & Thomas in Charleston. She used to work the elevators. I watched her change her life, all of a sudden deciding she wants to become a police officer. Then, her birthday was two or three days past the final date to be a certain age, so they denied her an opportunity to go to the … What’s it called? The Academy. She fought it. She took it to court and she won. She went to the Academy, she got out, and she passed it. Then, when she got out, they put her in some of the more difficult places to make it as hard as they could for her. Everybody in those areas embraced her. She would later go on and become our own Chief of Police in Dunbar. She always used to tell me about, “You have to be able to say what you want, and you can’t let anybody talk you out of it.” She didn’t mean to brag about it, but if you want something, if you can’t say it out loud then you don’t believe it.

Jeremy Turner:

And then to fight for it if you feel you’re being dealt with unjustly.

Carl Lee:

Yes, because if I say it, and then all of a sudden you say, “You’re not going to make that,” I can’t let you convince me that’s not going to happen.

Jeremy Turner:

How do these lessons that you’ve learned about mental toughness, hard work, and some of the things that you’ve seen along the way … Whether it’s lessons from your dad, from your mom, from Robert Alexander, from Sonny … How have you taken these learnings and these lessons? You’re obviously not playing in the League anymore. How have you taken these lessons and applied them to what you’re doing nowadays?

Carl Lee:

I try to push these off on parents and youth sports through the city. Mayor Mullens does a great job with youth sports here specifically for South Charleston. It’s still difficult to try to get the message across to parents of what is right, because it’s hard to say what’s right for your kid. It’s not really fair for me to say what’s right for your kid, but if you’re trying to get them down on a path, then you have to have gone down the path. You have to kind of understand what the path requires. That’s a hard lesson to learn. There are things that you know about, the businesses that you have been a part of, and you understand the dynamics. You know what it takes every single day. For me to try to just say, “I can do what Jeremy does any time. I can just walk in and do it, or try to critique it without knowing,” it doesn’t make sense.

I think somewhere in this generation, hopefully I’m going to be able to break through to somebody, to some parent, to some kid. Part of the Legends Building Legends … and you and I have talked about it, because we’ve been involved with this for a long time and had a lot of conversations … It’s not about just the football player trying to get to another football player. It’s a teacher trying to get to a future teacher. It’s an accountant trying to get a future accountant. A doctor trying to get to a future doctor. Those are all legends in our community. Those are all people that have meaningful work to do. They all have an impact on the future success of someone, somebody, and certain groups of people. We’re starting in an area that we know. Randy and I feel like sports is what we know.

Me and you have talked about the transition from high school to college, how difficult that is, and how many parents don’t really know. They just think that you just leave high school and go. There’s so much paperwork and all those kinds of things that needs to be done that they don’t know. We’ve talked about, “How can we get that information out to them?” We’ve been working with Dale Lee, who’s the president of the Teacher’s Association of West Virginia, talking about the tutoring and understanding of what has to be done and how it has to be done in high school. We’re trying to make this about people who have traveled a path. I don’t know that path. I went through it, but I don’t know it well enough to teach it.

I couldn’t tell a parent all of the academic requirements, where you can go for grants, and how to do your financial aid. That’s something that you’re an expert in and working in that area. I might not be able to have that legend, being able to talk to these parents, but they can have a resource to get in front of. If not, those places that are outside of the city and sometimes inside of the city, they just don’t know. Parents don’t know. They don’t know GPAs. They don’t know core classes. They don’t know financial aid. You’re not supposed to, unless it’s something that …So I’m just trying to make all of the legends in all areas to be willing to come in and show that path so that our kids have something to see and something to learn.

Jeremy Turner:

It’s a cool journey you’re on, and I’m thankful to have been on this journey with you. Obviously, it’s ongoing, right?

Carl Lee:

Yeah.

Jeremy Turner:

There’s still work to be done, but let’s say at some point in the future you’re looking back, when would you feel like you’ve succeeded in this work? What’s that going to look and sound like?

Carl Lee:

I think for those kids who participate in the Combine this year, if they come back next year and they’re 40 times faster, and not just faster because you’re older but faster because you put work in it, I think that would be good. For the kid who’s struggling academically but is a good athlete, who all of a sudden has to now realize that the grades are going to be more important than you think. For the kid who thinks being cool, tough, hard, and all that kind of stuff, that would follow some of the notable NFL players who have blown their careers and being that guy is going to be cool and it’s okay, if I could see those changes, that is the start of people understanding that, “I need to learn from you.”

A parent is like, “I need to get to that guy. I need to talk to him because I’ve got a kid who really wants to go to college. She wants to be a doctor and I don’t have any money saved up for school. How do I get there? You have the knowledge to get her there.” If a dad comes to me and says, “Hey, I’ve got a son who really wants to play professional football” or “He wants to play college football” or “He just wants to be great in high school” … “What do I need to do with him? How do I train him?” I can help you with that. Creating these jobs, so to speak, and these little neighborhood shops that you can stop by and get some information from. I look at Legends Building Legends as that kind of a one-stop shop of information for people who want to be successful and for people who can admit that they don’t know how to get there.

There’s a high school coach, there’s a middle school coach, there’s a youth football coach who does not know the process, and faking it only hurts the kids. There are parents who don’t know how to get their kid to college and how to get their kid better. Their kid, who walks around the house and says, “I want to play in the NBA. I want to play in college,” and maybe it’s just the mom there. Mom wants that for him, but she has no idea what the process is, what the path looks like, or where you even make the left turn to get on. She doesn’t know. Maybe we can be that place that she can find out.

Jeremy Turner:

We’re going to see, because it’s happening.

Carl Lee:

Yes. Yes.

Jeremy Turner:

It’s happening. People listening to this may hear you talk about athletes, football players, and such, but there’s obviously more to it than football and athletes. Take a minute and talk about people listening to this and why they should care about the people you’re serving and the work that you’re doing.

Carl Lee:

If you’re just a person out there, maybe you don’t have kids or you don’t have a connection to this, my mom always used to tell me from when she was a cop. Always giving back, always reflecting back. I think being from West Virginia, we should all be linked because everybody sees us the same way in that we’re not supposed to be successful. I can remember being in Minnesota and guys not even knowing we’re Marshall. Anthony Carter used to always give a Marshall update of winning or losing on game day at the pre-game, usually breakfast unless it was an evening game. He’d always call out what happened with Marshall. With that being said, I think where we have to look is we have to look at West Virginia, and we have to look and be mindful of what’s happening to our youth. We can reach back. We have the opportunity to reach back and pull, even if it’s not our kid … We have the opportunity to bring kids along in a positive path. We can opt-out of that, and we already see the path that they’re going.

It’s clear what West Virginia is. It’s clear that we see what the drugs and things like that are doing because there is no other positive. There’s no other options for a lot of kids. When you start talking about these outlining areas, where there’s not a downtown, not this, and not that, we have to go into those places. They’re our people …There’s a doctor in there. There’s a lawyer in there. There’s a teacher in there. There’s a dentist in there. There’s a superstar in there. They don’t know if we don’t go. You can sit and wait for the next star, the next doctor, or whatever. You can sit and wait. We’ve heard this, “Nothing comes out of there. We don’t know about anybody coming out of that school.” If you’re saying that, then you need to get into that school.

If you’re that successful and you have the capabilities to say that out of your mouth, then you must be somewhere, have gotten somewhere, or have some form of success, because you’re judging that. If you’re going to judge that, then maybe you need to go do some fishing. Maybe you need to get in there and throw out some bait so you can get somebody out of there, because I think that becomes the problem. I can understand somebody outside of West Virginia saying, “There’s not going to be any great athletes in West Virginia.” I was told that I had to be able to workout anytime because no one’s going to stop or make a special trip to Marshall. If they’re coming east, then they’ll stop on their way through. If they’re going west, they’ll stop on their way through. They’re not going to make you a scheduled appointment.

Jeremy Turner:

They’re going to see somebody else, right?

Carl Lee:

Yeah. They’re going to be on their way to see somebody else. They’re not just going to be there. People on the outside don’t see us as being worth coming to see or worthy of. Why would we look at ourselves that way?

Jeremy Turner:

How do you think growing up in West Virginia, and especially in the town you grew up in West Virginia and the time you grew up, how do you think that’s shaped you? You talked a little bit about it just now, but how has that made you who you are?

Carl Lee:

Probably everything. It’s probably the very foundation and the roots of everything else that my mom would tell me, because there were so many different things. I can remember South Charleston, and some people may say it’s still that way. I can remember South Charleston when it wasn’t about whoever was giving money to the school. I can remember in youth football if your dad was coaching, you were probably going to be at the skilled position. I can’t imagine me ever looking like a lineman. There’s just nothing about that.

Whoever was the running back, whoever was the quarterback, whoever was the receiver, or whatever … I kind of think I could have played that position if maybe there wasn’t a dad there. There were a lot of things said to me and a lot of things that I experienced that could have made me say, “I never want to come back there.” We have a lot of athletes that are like that, but my family was here. Now, I feel like my work is here. I’m in a job that absolutely gives me the opportunity and the freedom to be able to do things around youth and have a chance to do this. I oversee the football program that I played in youth football.

Jeremy Turner:

How cool is that?

Carl Lee:

There’s just nothing better than that. It’s still challenging, but watching these kids and trying to get them to understand that you don’t have to cry and you don’t have to worry about this. Just keep playing. Somebody was doing that for me. Now, I get to do that for them.

Jeremy Turner:

Love it.

Carl Lee:

Yeah.

Jeremy Turner:

You’ve talked a little bit about the need to pay it forward. People have poured in for you and you’ve had certain opportunities in your life that you feel very blessed about. You’ve likely heard me use this phrase, “Hero of Change.” I throw it around a lot because it’s meaningful for me. When you hear that term, “Hero of Change,” what does that mean to you? Why do you think it’s so important for everyday people, like you and I, to stand up and go do stuff?

Carl Lee:

The toughest part of that is the “hero,” because you, me … You know what I’m saying? You don’t necessarily need it or want the credit for that, but it’s something that you hope someone would say. You’re like, “I could say that for you, and you would say that about me.”

Jeremy Turner:

But we wouldn’t say it about ourselves.

Carl Lee:

Yeah. You don’t say it about yourself. Right. You connect, so I can connect with you as the Hero of Change. When I connect as the “hero” to the word “change,” anything after that is all to the good. Do you know what I mean? You’re changing something. I know who you are, so I know the change and we’ve talked about the changes that you want to make. We’re talking about trying to get kids in higher education to touch it, experience it, and just the importance of what it does for you in the future. That change is probably as big as any change. Again, inside of that and from high school to college, I don’t care if you put that in sports, education, or just trying to go because you’re supposed to go … If you create that change, my job gets a whole lot easier.

Jeremy Turner:

I want to make your life easy, Carl.

Carl Lee:

Exactly.

Jeremy Turner:

That’s my mission. That’s my new mission.

Carl Lee:

There’s going to be parents that are going to be happy, because all of a sudden, their kid wants to go to college and they understand what the process is. Change, to me, a hero, change still remains the biggest piece. To hear you talk about the different types of things that we’ve talked about, the way you want to change things to make it simpler, easier, through a process, and through an app,, that makes me see the hero in that change. Again, as you’ve said earlier, we don’t want to say that about ourselves, but the reality of it as you hear it that way … And I know you can probably kick it back on my side … But when you hear it that way, it is hard for you to kick that out of your head and say, “Okay. Yeah, that would make a hero if I can do all of that and if I can get that done?”

Jeremy Turner:

If somebody else did it, they would be a hero …

Carl Lee:

Exactly.

Jeremy Turner:

… But when I do it, we’re just doing it.

Carl Lee:

Just what you’re doing. That’s just what I do. I don’t need any pat on the backs or whatever, but yes you do. Yes, we would. We would want that. Do you know what I’m saying? I’m not saying we would want it, but it’s what to do. When I hear, what rings true to me and what’s out front of that is the change, I’m looking for who’s going to those heroes for that change. It doesn’t matter who the hero is as long as they create the change and as long as they present the change.

Jeremy Turner:

We’ve got some change that needs to occur in our world, our country, and our state.

Carl Lee:

Absolutely.

Jeremy Turner:

I don’t know about you, but I travel West Virginia a fair amount and even outside of West Virginia as well, but I hear in communities especially where there might be some distress or maybe a loss of hope that everybody is waiting for somebody else. They’re waiting for the government, some rich person, or somebody else to come and make things better. Why do you think it’s so important for everyday people, like you and I, to go be the change?

Carl Lee:

Randy and I have had a conversation about this. Sometimes you’ll hold a title or a reputation that is good, bad, or indifferent, and it almost forces you to be the guy.

Jeremy Turner:

Expectations, right?

Carl Lee:

Yes. Yes. I think it comes to expectation and that bruising side of you. I watch people train kids and talk to kids about different things, and I hear them. I’m sitting there in my head, and I’m like, “That’s not really right. I’m not sure he just said the right thing,” or something like, “Oh, that’s way wrong. He’s totally wrong.” Then, not to get involved … I don’t know how just on a simplistic side. Coaching defensive backs … I don’t know anything about it specifically, but I was taught a whole lot about it.

There are people who teach defensive backs who know nothing about it. No one has told them anything about it, which means that they still do not know nothing. Then, the kid has then been forced to play and trying to be great based on just an athletic ability. To say, “Don’t get beat deep” or “Stay deep. You can’t miss that tackle,” that is not coaching. That is not teaching your defensive back, because yes, you can get beat deep. Yes, you will miss the tackle. How do you back peddle? How do you open? What are the details of it? When you do get beat, what was the reason you got beat?

Jeremy Turner:

Learn from your mistake, right?

Carl Lee:

Yes. Yes. I’ve literally tried to work with high schools and said, “I want to talk to the parents. I’ll train them, but I want to train them early in the morning … Like 5:30 in the morning, because I want the commitment.”

Jeremy Turner:

Right.

Carl Lee:

I want the commitment. I want them to be committed. That’s what time I worked out. I was willing to get up early in the morning and work with the athletes, and I even said, “Give me the athlete that you think is great or good, but just as they’re working or is in trouble. Give me that kid, and let me try to work on them.” I didn’t get any movement on it. I don’t even know if the coaches even bothered to talk about it to a parent.

Jeremy Turner:

What a missed opportunity.

Carl Lee:

Yeah. To me, I don’t claim to know. I was taught this, but I was taught this from what is arguably one of the best defensive back coaches ever in football. I have the ability to just say what he said to me. It’s not me. It’s not me. I didn’t get to pro ball until he got there. Until Pete Carroll came to Minnesota, that was my run of defensive back. When I went to State, we had three first team all-conference defensive backs and one second team of the four that started. That has nothing to do with me. That has all to do with this other guy. All I’m doing is saying, “If he says blue, I tell them blue.”

Jeremy Turner:

It takes a certain amount of humility to not let yourself get wrapped up in a 12-year professional career, Viking top 50 … “I’m the man. I know this stuff.” It takes a certain amount of humility to say, “Yes, I did these things. Here’s how I was able to do these things, and here’s what’s been embedded in me from other people. Let me pass that along,” rather than saying that you were the owner of all knowledge.

Carl Lee:

Oh yeah. I’m very comfortable in giving the credit where it was due. Sonny played me perfectly to make me work. The coaches that I had prior to Sonny Randle, and then I had Tony Dungy as the d coordinator. Then, I had Willie Shaw as a defensive back coach after Pete … Arguably some of the best defensive back brains in NFL history. To have that luxury, there’s nothing I knew and there’s nothing that I know greater than what they knew and told me.

Jeremy Turner:

That’s good stuff.

Carl Lee:

Sometimes we think when somebody teaches us stuff, and we walk around a football field, we know all this information. I only know my information. I only got good, and maybe some people would say great, to make a 50 greatest on an NFL team because of the information that I got. I didn’t start out like that. I wasn’t playing like in my earlier years. It took me, I think, my sixth or seventh year for my first Pro Bowl. It took somebody to come in, who said something to me that made sense to me and I could understand it, that elevated my game. I was perfect with bump and run, but I didn’t know it. Somebody had to tell me that.

For me, I had this information, and I had one high school. I had one high school and I talked to several high schools. I had one high school ask me to actually come up, talk with their coaches about it, and talk to a couple of their quarterbacks about it. I appreciated it. I appreciate it. I’ve talked to people. I’ve talked to coaches, but it didn’t go anywhere. That’s okay, but man … Some of these athletes are better than me when I was at that age, and what if they had the information that somebody gave me? I’d love to give it to them, but it’s probably going to be different than what their coach has given. I understand him not wanting that, but is this about me, you, or is it about the kid?

Jeremy Turner:

I think that’s an important point. We’ve talked about that quite a lot. People need to get out of the way and stop being an obstacle.

Carl Lee:

Right.

Jeremy Turner:

They should be the gateway. I could talk to you all day, and I love when we get together. I look forward to getting together again soon, but I don’t want to keep you on here all day. I want to move towards wrapping up with just a couple more questions, quick ones. This is your two-part question.

Carl Lee:

Okay.

Jeremy Turner:

What is the legacy you want to leave behind when everything is said and done? What advice or words of wisdom would you give to people out there who may be listening who have an idea, dream, or a calling, and maybe they’re feeling a little scared or maybe a little frustrated. Maybe they’re getting a lot of push back from people around them.

What’s your legacy that you want to leave behind, and what advice would you give to people out there who have an idea to go be the change?

Carl Lee:

If I could do to someone, and create an avenue and a belief to one person, that Robert did for me, Sonny did for me, or my mom did for me … It would just be a small fingerprint, but I’d be satisfied with that. I’d be satisfied completely with that. If I could just take somebody who had no hope and thought they had no chance … I’m not saying I didn’t have some hope. I had a desire to be it, but with the people to show me that it is doable and it is attainable, I would be satisfied. I could literally go home peacefully knowing if I could just touch that one person and see them grade a field and make a play, then I’m done. I’d be satisfied with that.

Jeremy Turner:

I’m pretty sure that’s coming if it hasn’t already happened.

Carl Lee:

Yeah.

Jeremy Turner:

What advice would you give to somebody, though? People who are listening to this may be someone who is like, “I have an idea. My heart is being pulled towards doing something,” but it’s not easy. You and I both know that going and doing something that pushes against the grain is not easy. What advice or final words of wisdom might you have for somebody?

Carl Lee:

Don’t assume it has to be big. Don’t assume that it has to be notable or visible. As an athlete and maybe even in a job like this, being who you are, you get notoriety. You get to do the podcast. You get to do media stuff and all that. It doesn’t have to be that. Don’t feel like you have to jump in at the top. The smallest thing … Just touch somebody and just invest something in something or somebody. Even if you can’t do it, invest somewhere that’s going to help West Virginia kids to get to college and to motivate them to want to be in college. If they don’t get to college, the chances for them to become that entrepreneur that is going to hit a home run … I’m not saying it’s impossible because I don’t rain on dreams, but there’s not going to be a lot of us that’s going to do that. A lot of us are going to have to put in some kind of work and some kind of grunt work somewhere. Just get in and help somewhere. Just somewhere, anywhere. Whatever peaks your interest or whatever sparks it, throw money at it, participate in it, or do something. Don’t do nothing and then sit around and complain about what somebody is doing.

Jeremy Turner:

That’s good. I heard a quote once. It was something like, “Don’t wake up every day for 80 years doing nothing and call that life.”

Carl Lee:

Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. That’s true.

Jeremy Turner:

Man, it’s been a pleasure spending a bit of time with you. I appreciate it as always, and I’m going to absolutely look forward to catching up with you again. How can people learn more about Legends Building Legends if they want to learn more?

Carl Lee:

Right now, our Facebook is up now. We have a Facebook account up now with Legends Building Legends. Our website will be back active supposedly this weekend, but give us maybe until Monday or Tuesday and you’ll see things about the Combine coming up on May 30th. That same night, there is a Stars and Stripes basketball game with Jason Williams, Randy Moss, and a ton of other guys. We’ll have Darryl Talley coming in. That’s also on May 30th at the Civic Center at 7:00 PM. It will be out there, and we’ll keep posting stuff as we go.

Jeremy Turner:

Awesome. Man, keep grinding.

Carl Lee:

I will.

Jeremy Turner:

I appreciate you, and we’ll get together again real soon. That’s all for this episode of the Heroes of Change podcast from EPIC Mission. We hope that you’ve been inspired by something you’ve heard today because together, we are the change. Join us next time as we dig into the story of another Hero of Change and learn what they do, how they do it, and most importantly, why they do it. If you or someone you know has an amazing story and would like to be a guest on the Heroes of Change podcast, you can visit our website at yourepicmission.com/heroes-of-change-podcast. You can share your details, and we’ll see if we can get you on. In the meantime, take care and we’ll see you next time on the Heroes of Change podcast. Thanks so much.