FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — This is one story Candice Lee is happy to watch from the sideline.
For 21 years, she’s served as a mentor, an inspiration and her son’s biggest cheerleader. But on the biggest stage of his adult life, she was content to stand in the shadows.
On Thursday night, the Jets selected her son Darron, a former Ohio State linebacker, with the 20th overall pick in the NFL Draft. And as always, his mother — a weekend news anchor for WCMH-TV, the NBC affiliate in Columbus, Ohio — was standing nearby.
“[She’s played] a huge role,” Lee said during his introductory news conference at the Jets’ facility on Friday. “Just seeing her approach to how she works. Her work ethic is unbelievable . . . Having pride in your work is nothing to be ashamed of. She instilled that in me and that’s been my driving force.”
His ease and eloquence in front of the cameras comes courtesy of his single mother. And so does his “swagger,” she said.
“Yeah, some of that’s me saying, ‘Be proud of who you are. You’re a good kid,’ ’’ said his mother, who spent seven years as a U.S. Navy journalist and public relations specialist. “ . . . Sometimes you feel with a black child, a black male, [people] see confidence as arrogance, and he sees that. And I’m like, don’t ever let anybody tell you differently. You’re a confident person. If someone says you’re being arrogant, that’s their problem.”
Lee’s belief in himself never wavered. Not even when he weighed 197 pounds and had to make the transition from being a quarterback and defensive back at New Albany High School (less than 20 miles from Columbus) to being a college linebacker at Ohio State. And every step of the way, he heeded his mother’s advice.
“Stay humble. Listen to what people are telling you. Stay in the film room,” she told him.
Inside linebacker is yet another new position for Lee to learn, but the Jets are confident they picked a playmaker. “We got a guy that can play three downs,” coach Todd Bowles said of Lee, who now weighs 237. “He covers very well. He needs a little bit of technique work, but he’s very athletic. He understands the game. He’s a very intelligent ballplayer.”
Lee’s mother spent the “better part of a week” in Phoenix working on a news package about her son’s preparation for the NFL Scouting Combine. “I did his entire interview for most of the reports . . . and the last day, we did a Q&A.”
She smiled again and said: “He’s used to it.”
During the draft process, Lee’s mother said she “took a step back because I wanted to enjoy it. And it’s hard to enjoy something when you’re working.”
Now she’s eager to start a new chapter in her own career. The weekend news anchor plans to step away from the camera in order to be able to see her son play.
“Am I going to stay out here [in Florham Park, New Jersey] or am I going to move slightly closer but not, like, in the same town?” she said, laughing. “He doesn’t want me in the same town.”