Lee rises from lost season

For Marro Lee, a silver lining has become a golden opportunity.

When Lee broke a metacarpal bone in his thumb in the fifth game of the 2010 football season, his junior year, it was at first hard for the Crescenta Valley High running back to look past his season-ending injury and ahead to Friday's 2011 season opener against Santa Paula at Moyse Field.

But now that it's here, Lee couldn't be more excited to have a second chance — and final shot — to continue the breakout high school career he showed glimpses of in 2010 and possibly lead the Falcons to the Pacific League and CIF playoff horizons the team had envisioned last season after a hot 4-1 start.

"It was pretty devastating in the beginning, but then it was great time for evaluation," says Lee, whose injury required weeks of recovery after a pin was inserted into his hand to allow the bone to heal. "I'm just glad it happened in my junior year, rather than this year."

So are the Falcons, who plan to use Lee all over the field as the focal point of Crescenta Valley's usual spread offense under second-year Coach Paul Schilling.

"We really need him this year because he is our running attack," Falcons senior center Nathan Sarreal says.

Last season, Lee emerged as a rising offensive star in his first five games as a varsity player, leading the Falcons to four wins, including a perfect 2-0 start in league.

Lee cruised into the Oct. 8 meeting with Hoover on quite a roll, having racked up 526 rushing yards and six touchdowns in four games.

"Last year, he was sort of a surprise to us because he was up from the JVs," Schilling says. "He had a great five games."

Lee had been particularly dynamic in his two previous outings, rushing for a season-high 231 yards and three scores in a 38-34 win over La Cañada on Sept. 24 and rolling up 135 yards and another two touchdowns on the ground in an Oct. 1 35-14 league-opening win over Glendale.

In a 62-28 blowout of the Tornadoes, Lee added one more touchdown to his total, but any celebration was muted by his eventual injury in that game.

Lee wouldn't play another down and the Falcons would fail to win another game, finishing out the season at 4-6 and 2-5 in league for sixth place.

Schilling stops well short of pinning the team's collapse directly on Lee's injury, but can't help but wonder how having his offensive standout could have influenced a pair of 21-14 league losses to Pasadena and Burroughs or helped the Falcons maintain a slim halftime lead over archrival Arcadia that ultimately slipped away into a 35-17 loss in the season finale.

"It's hard to totally tell because when we lost him we were 4-1 and we didn't win another game," Schilling says. "But schedule has something to do with that too, so we don't really know. But when you look at the Pasadena game and the Burroughs games specifically that were so close — one play here, one play there — we had chances to win. Without a guy like Marro, [he] could have been the difference."

But a lot of time has passed since that November night and Lee has spent the interim focused not on what could have been, but what's yet to come.

"It just gave me time to set goals for this year, try and work hard and perform better than I did last year," Lee says. "It set up opportunities for a better [2011] season.

"I'm pretty psyched for the season. I think everyone's really excited."

Lee has worked out hard in an effort to improve his durability and looks forward to shining in the same offensive system he flourished in early last season. Schilling plans to utilize the spread to open lanes for Lee to unleash his speed and shifty lateral movement to get into open space and create some big plays.

"With Marro, he's a very talented player, so if we give him the ball, he's just going to do what he does the best," Falcons senior quarterback Zac Wilkerson says. "And if we don't give him the ball, a lot of teams are going to focus on him, so everything else is going to open up."

Lee knows he's in the middle of an ideal situation for him to finish what he started last season — healthy and strong with the full confidence of his teammates and coaches and playing in an offense designed to maximize his vast potential.

"They're trying to put me in position to make plays as much as I can," Lee says. "I just want to do whatever I can to help us win.

"I think the offense advanced a lot. I think [offensive coordinator Dennis Gossard] put in a lot of new things. It's going to be pretty high-octane, we are going to score a lot."

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