BLUE EARTH - Jake, Nick and Sam Lee are football players who grew up cheering for the Minnesota Vikings like many Minnesota sports fans.
Now, the brothers from Blue Earth are donning their own Vikings jerseys each week as they play together for the Augustana Vikings football team.
"I always wanted to play at the highest level I could in football," said Jake Lee. "I wanted to play college football, and our dad had played at the University of South Dakota, who at one time was in the same conference as Augustana. So I thought that would be a good place to play, and their teams always seem to be competitive."
BAND?OF?BROTHERS — Former Blue Earth Area standouts and current Augustana Viking football starters Nick Lee (84), Jake Lee (53) and Sam Lee (73) celebrate after a home victory over Bemidji State University on Sept. 21 at Kirkeby-Over Stadium in Sioux Falls, S.D. (Photo submitted by Donna Nawrocki)
All three brothers played high school football for Blue Earth Area, helping their teams to state tournaments and conference championships before each decided to continue their football careers at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D.
"After Jake and Nick were playing at Augustana, it did make for a tough decision for me," said Sam Lee. "In the end, I am so glad I chose to play here with them. It is just awesome to play with them."
The Vikings, who are 2-3 so far this season, will face their toughest opponent in Division II, No. 2 ranked Minnesota State University, Mankato at 1 p.m. today in Mankato.
This season, Jake - a defensive lineman - has recorded 18 tackles, made three quarterback sacks and forced one fumble.
"When I was looking to come here to play, they were looking at me to play defensive line the whole time," said Jake Lee. "It is hard work, but that's what I really love about it."
Jake, the 5-foot-11, 270-pound junior, was a three-year starter for the Bucs, amassing 106 tackles to go with one interception and one forced fumble during his senior prep season.
In addition to being an all-state honorable mention choice his senior season, Jake also was named all-South Central Conference twice, Sentinel All-Area three times and SCC offensive lineman of the year his senior year.
"Since our dad played college football, he prepared all of us, telling us that the game is going to be faster and the other players will be stronger," said Jake Lee. "But even though you know that, it still took some time to adjust to."
Now, in his junior season, Jake has adjusted to the speed and skill of college football.
While Nick started out his college career at South Dakota State University, he has since found his place on offense for Augustana.
"I went to South Dakota State for a semester, but I just didn't quite fit in there," said Nick Lee. "I'm not sure if having Jake at Augustana helped me to feel more comfortable, but I just felt like I fit in more here."
The tight end has caught nine passes for 100 yards, including a 26-yard connection for a touchdown against Bemidji State University.
"I think the toughest part to being a tight end is the blocking aspect, because that changes from week to week and depending on the play," said Nick Lee. "But I really love going out and catching passes for touchdowns, too."
The 6-4, 220-pound junior made 21 catches for 276 yards and seven touchdowns his senior season at Blue Earth Area, garnering all-SCC and All-Area honors.
"Now that I get to line up next to Sam during games, it is great. Playing with my brothers was one of the biggest reasons I wanted to play college football, so I love it," said Nick. "Sometimes when we go back to the huddle, it's easier to explain things, because he kind of already knows how I think. It makes it really fun to play."
Youngest brother Sam also plays a vital role in Augustana's offense, protecting the quarterback's blind side at the left tackle spot.
"Being an offensive lineman, the running backs, the quarterbacks and the wide receivers get a lot of the glory. But I'm OK with that," said Sam Lee. "For us, it's a pride thing. If we have a balanced offensive day and if we don't give up sacks, that is great."
When Sam wore the maroon-and-gold for the Bucs in high school, he was a two-year starter and garnered all-SCC, All-Area and all-SCC lineman of the year honors twice.
The three-year letterwinner also made 38 tackles his senior year and 14 as a junior to help him earn Minnesota AP all-state and St. Paul Pioneer Press all-state honors his senior year.
The 6-5, 295 pound sophomore is making strides to be successful on the offensive line this season for the Vikings.
"In college, we have more individual time with coaches. I'm starting to get used to the routine now with watching film, but my technique has improved a lot just because the small details are so important," said Sam Lee. "We have a new line coach this season, but I really buy into what he is coaching and it has helped us get a lot better."
This week will prove challenging for the Lees as they face MSU, which averages 38 points per game, while holding opponents to 17 points.
"It's always fun to play against tougher opponents," said Jake Lee.
"We can't be scared of them (today). They are good, and they are ranked. So we need to respect them," said Nick Lee. "But we need to come out and play physical and hopefully we can play consistent and beat them."