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Former Ute Austin Lee now bringing energy to BYU’s defense, fatherhood as matchup with his old team looms

BYU senior free safety Austin Lee juggles a multitude of responsibilities. And that’s just off the field. Lee, who started his career at Utah in 2015, stays busy being a husband and father of two young children.

SHARE Former Ute Austin Lee now bringing energy to BYU’s defense, fatherhood as matchup with his old team looms
Brigham Young Cougars defensive back Austin Lee (11) makes intercepts a pass intended for Western Michigan Broncos wide receiver Jayden Reed (87) during the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho on Friday, Dec. 21, 2018.

Brigham Young Cougars defensive back Austin Lee (11) intercepts a pass intended for Western Michigan Broncos wide receiver Jayden Reed (87) during the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho on Friday, Dec. 21, 2018.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

PROVO — BYU senior free safety Austin Lee juggles plenty of roles. 

And that’s just off the field. 

Lee, who started his career at Utah in 2015, stays busy as a husband and father of two young children. 

On the field, the 6-foot, 200-pound Draper native is a key catalyst on the Cougar defense. 

“He brings leadership. He’s the old guy in the group. He’s a senior. He’s been in two different programs,” said safeties coach Preston Hadley. “He’s married and he has two kids. He’s a dad (so) he brings a unique perspective to our group; he’s the only guy in that position right now. And he plays with passion. You can tell a lot about someone by the way they play the game. Every rep, he’s a guy that’s selling out. He’s been plagued by injuries at different points of his career. He’s really kind of the heart and soul of our group right now.”

“Being a senior, things are different. Things are at a faster pace. I always thought I had the hardest work ethic. But as a senior, it’s a different level of energy. My role is to make sure that everyone is ready.” — BYU safety Austin Lee

Last season, Lee started 12 games at free safety. He recorded 56 tackles and had two interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. 

Cornerback Dayan Ghanwoloku enjoys playing in the defensive backfield with Lee. 

“He’s got a lot of energy. He brings the physicality. That’s how I play, too. He and I really connected. He likes being physical and I like being physical,” Ghanwoloku said. “Seeing him back there at free safety, I trust him. I trust that he’s going to cap everything off. If it gets past us, I can trust him to make a play and make an open field tackle. I have a lot of trust in him, for sure.”

As he begins his final year of eligibility, Lee feels a heightened sense of urgency and responsibility. 

“Being a senior, things are different. Things are at a faster pace. I always thought I had the hardest work ethic. But as a senior, it’s a different level of energy. My role is to make sure that everyone is ready,” he said. “As a safety, I can see the whole defense. In that role, I want to make sure that guys are lined up properly, that we’re working together, have that great team chemistry and that we can be a dominant defense. I’m excited. I hope I can fulfill that role and provide some leadership in that way.”

“He’s one of the oldest DBs. Austin has a family to feed. He’s out here working,” Ghanwoloku said of Lee. “This is like a job to him. He’s not taking it for granted. We piggyback off of him. We talk about having families to feed.” 

Yes, at home, Lee and his wife, Kortnie, are immersed in raising their 3-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter. 

“Fatherhood is a growing process. I have the best wife and she takes care of our two kids,” he said. “I can focus on school and football. Sometimes I get the fun part of it and I have fun with it. When I’m at home, I try to be in the moment. I don’t manage it very well. I try to be where I need to be. My wife is very loving and caring to help out. She watches her nieces as well. She has a house full of five kids sometimes and they are all about the same age. She’s so caring and loving. She does it all. I come home and I get to hang out with them. She’s the one behind the scenes.”

Lee is looking forward to taking on Utah in the season opener. His dad, Doug, played baseball for the Utes and his grandfather, Gordon, played football at Utah from 1959-61 and coached the running backs from 1964-65. 

As a freshman, Lee played for the Utes before serving a mission to Tulsa, Oklahoma. When he returned, he decided to transfer to BYU, where Kalani Sitake, a former longtime Utah defensive coordinator, had become the head coach.

Naturally, Lee would love nothing more, as a senior, to end the eight-game losing streak to the Utes. 

“Utah can say they’ve won eight straight — that’s been a big thing — but the guys here haven’t lost eight straight,” he said. “We’ve seen how we’ve competed against them and we’ve seen how we can jump on them really quick. We’ve seen how we’ve beaten Wisconsin. We have a strong mindset and capability. It’s just being able to endure those trials that come along. The fact that it’s Game 1, it’s perfect. We’re excited to play it.”