When Fred Lee was growing up in South Carolina he asked his mother for advice because he didn’t know what he wanted to be when he grew up.
She told him to brush his teeth, wash his face, look in the mirror and say, “I am somebody, I am important and I love me.”
These are words that the senior wide receiver from the University at Buffalo still follows and uses often the last five years as a motivational speaker.
On Tuesday at Starpoint High School, Lee was honored for his hard work and dedication to serving others by being named to the 2013 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team for his involvement in the Western New York community, an honor that caught Lee by surprise.
Lee thought he was merely speaking to Starpoint elementary and middle school students on the importance of working hard and staying in school but was given the award following his speech. After he was handed the award by Allstate local representative Sam Mezzio, Lee was moved to tears.
“This is the best feeling and the best award I could ever get,” Lee said. “The award of being the best receiver in the nation or nothing like that can compare to this amazing award.”
Lee’s tears really started to flow when UB coach Jeff Quinn hugged him and said, “I’m proud to have you and I’m proud to know you.”
“This is what I’ve been called to do, this is my destiny and I want to thank God for giving me the vision this year to get in touch to what He called me to do in life and that’s motivating and inspiring other people,” said Lee, who has 12 receptions for 90 yards in three games.
Quinn nominated Lee during the summer in large part because of his work with at-risk youth at Starpoint, assembling tricycles for the UB Child Care Center. Lee also volunteers at the West Hertel Elementary School and is in the process of writing a motivational book with the working title, “No Matter What.”
“For him to take time out of his valuable schedule and do what he’s done, he’s impacted a lot of people’s lives,” Quinn said. “You can see how important it is to him. It’s not about us, it’s about others and that’s what Fred represents.”
Lee said he learned to give back by observing his mother, Jackie, and his father, Fred Sr.
“My mom is such a strong woman, she works two jobs, and she supported me and my sister since we were kids,” Lee said. “My dad is a senior pastor and does so much as far as believing in his church and becoming a successful person. They both instill so many great qualities into me.”
UB quarterback Joe Licata, whose father, Gil, is the principal at Starpoint, remembered when he was throwing with Lee during the summer prior to his freshman year. Licata tossed a bad pass and Lee let him have it.
“He said, ‘Hey rook, what do you think you’re doing?’ ” Licata said. “I was like, ‘uh oh.’ ”
Licata didn’t realize Lee has a playful side.
“I’m just kidding, man, I’ll be here helping you out,” Lee told him.
Said Licata: “From then on I knew he was a leader and was a great person. He really cares about people.”
One of those individuals is Bart Mazzara, whom Gil introduced to Lee a few years ago. After a speech at Starpoint, Lee befriended Mazzara and the two exchanged phone numbers. Mazzara couldn’t wait until class ended each day.
“I’m going to talk to Fred Lee, I love him,” he would tell his friends.
Mazzara believes he was headed into the military until Lee convinced him he could play college football. Lee started playing football when he was a junior in high school with the dream of playing at a FBS program but was told he couldn’t. Now he starts for UB.
“Don’t allow people to doubt you in anything you do,” said lee, who arranged for Mazzara to work out with Bulls cornerback Courtney Lester.
“The military isn’t a bad thing, it really isn’t, but once I found out I could play college football he made me want to do it,” Mazzara said.
He applied to Buffalo State and majors in criminal justice with the thought of becoming a police officer. He’s also trying to walk on the Bengals football team.
“Without Fred, I feel that that would have never happened,” Mazzara said. “He gave me that drive for success to get that degree. I want to make my family proud and make him proud. Making him proud would be the best achievement I’ve ever achieved.”