CHICAGO — Nebraska coach Mike Riley thinks quarterback Tanner Lee is a “pretty cool customer.” He has been since the day he arrived in Lincoln, and he did nothing to lose that label at Big Ten Media Days.
Lee transferred to Nebraska before the 2016 season from Tulane University. While at Tulane, he made 19 starts in 2014 and 2015, throwing for 1,639 yards and 11 touchdowns. He completed 52 percent of his passes.
With that kind of experience, Lee could have come to Nebraska expecting to be named the starting quarterback, or with the mindset that he was too good for the scout team. Instead, he embraced his transition season while sitting out due to NCAA transfer rules.
“People initially just felt comfortable with him,” Riley said. “You could tell that was the case. And then through time, he also became well-respected because he was a worker, took great pride — which is interesting — being the scout team quarterback after having started games in college already. He embraced that. He wanted to help our team in the way he could, which was prepare them and prepare our defense to play in the game.
“There was never any drama with him. I think what was neat to see was the players on our team watching him practice and seeing his ability. I think they enjoyed seeing that about him.”
Thinking back over the last year, Lee didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. He knew what he needed to do: show up and work hard. He was stepping into a locker room of players that had been together for a couple of years.
Lee worked hard during the 2016 season on the scout team to build relationships. He pulled from his experiences at Tulane to help him make the transition with his new teammates.
“Another thing I learned in the past is how to interact with guys from different backgrounds and different states and different cultures, things like that,” Lee said. “It helped me in that way, and I think just through work ethic and consistent, honest, everyday work, people kind of saw that and I think it worked.”
What stood out to Riley, in particular, was how Lee joined the team without any drama. You never know how a player will react in a new situation, but Lee handled it with grace. It reminded Riley of a quarterback he coached at Oregon State.
“It reminds me of Matt Moore, and that was a good story for me in my football life, [which was] Matt Moore transferring to Oregon State from UCLA,” Riley said. “Matt came in. He could have been that hot-shot southern California, highly recruited guy, goes to UCLA, doesn’t work out.
“But he came in as one of the guys, had a terrific two years with us and is still playing in the NFL. I hope that’s the way the story goes.”
While things have gone smoothly for Lee, Riley is aware of the hype surrounding his new quarterback. He wants to set him up for success, so Riley plans to have quite a few conversations with Lee during fall camp.
One particular conversation will be about handling the crowd at Memorial Stadium. After the spring game, Lee commented that it was the first time he’d played in front of a crowd that size that was cheering for him. Riley wants to be sure Lee is ready.
“There’s nothing that’s going to come out of there that’s crazy about that guy,” Riley said. “He’s pretty stable, and I like that.”
Lee highlighted that stability once again on Tuesday. While there will still be plenty of questions to answer, Riley feels good about his starting quarterback going forward.
“I guess you don’t really know until the lights come on,” Riley said. “I have a lot of faith that things are going to be OK with this guy.”