Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Elijah Lee was among players to speak to the media after Monday’s first padded practice during the team’s training camp at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, Missouri.
As a local product, the sixth-year pro confirmed that the Chiefs were his favorite team growing up.
“It means a lot,” he said of the chance to play in Kansas City. “I went to high school at Blue Springs, so I was 15 miles east of the stadium. Just riding by, you wish and hope to be in this position. Now that I’m in it, I’m thankful. It’s a blessing — and now I’ve got to take advantage of the opportunity.”
The former Kansas State Wildcat’s choices for the favorite players of his youth are likely to be similar to those of many Chiefs fans.
“Jamaal Charles,” he said, “he was a home run hitter. That’s somebody you were excited to watch [in] the games. Being a defensive guy, [linebacker] Derrick Johnson. He went to Texas, played in the Big 12 — I played in the Big 12. Watching a ‘backer like that — and all the amazing things he did — that was kind of crazy. Then watching [pass rushers] Tamba Hali and Justin Houston coming off of the edge? That was a special defense.”
Lee has widely been reported as practicing with the first team in camp — which is somewhat surprising, given that the Chiefs are Lee’s fifth team in six seasons. In previous stops, Lee has also played much more on special teams than defense.
“You relish it,” Lee said of his opportunity. “I don’t know how this thing’s going to shake out. I’m just going to put my best foot forward. At the same time, some people say I’ve just always been special teams — but early on in my career, I was relied on to play early. So I know what it takes to be in position to take advantage of the role.”
He also credited former Kansas State coach Bill Snyder in helping him form a successful mindset.
“That’s an advantage for me,” he said of the coach’s famous focus on special teams. “Coach Snyder — great coach, Hall of Fame coach — [said] you [have to] take advantage of every opportunity. Doesn’t matter if you’re starting, special teams — however you do it, you put your best foot forward. I’m a strong believer [that] your work on special teams puts you in position to play on defense or offense.”
In a way, Lee has come full circle by attending camp at Missouri Western. Early in his high school career, he played at St. Joseph’s Central High. So his experience now is especially meaningful.
“It brings back a lot of memories,” Lee observed. “In high school — my freshman and sophomore year — we used to come over here. I was a towel boy or give the water. So I got to hand over a towel to Tamba Hali or Justin Houston. I’m like, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’
“So now to come back to be in this position, be able to give back and help in the community wherever I can, this is a great opportunity.”
One way he is involved upon his return to the community is by partnering with Mosaic Life Care in St. Joseph. Lee is excited about the opportunity to bring more focus to mental health services and nutrition education.
“As a child — not too many people know — I went to 15 different schools,” Lee revealed. “So your mental health can be all over the place. As a kid, you’re always asking why and trying to understand. But once you grow up and learn, the right nutrition and right mental health can take you further.
“Those free lunches at school aren’t always the best. So now you’re going through a whole day kind of groggy as a kid. But whenever you eat the right things, have the right mental health, stay positive — ‘I can do this’ and not taking ‘no’ for an answer — the sky is the limit.”