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Life's good for Pitt's Lee

Kevin Gorman
| Wednesday, Oct. 15, 2008

To cover his actual intentions, Conor Lee concocted a story that he was shooting a Pitt football commercial.

The Panthers place-kicker went so far as to play highlights of his favorite field goals on the JumboTron before proposing to Katie Graessle last January at Heinz Field.

"That's where I do my business," Lee said.

Business has never been better for Lee, a fifth-year senior from Upper St. Clair who's a Lou Groza Award and All-America candidate. He already owns three school records and is on pace to finish his career third among the Panthers' all-time scoring leaders.

Life has never been better, either.

Lee, who turns 24 today, has dual bachelor's degrees in business and economics and is taking nine credits this fall toward his MBA at the Katz Graduate School of Business. Lee and Graessle -- Katie is the younger sister of Lee's best friend, former Pitt punter Adam -- will be married Jan. 10 in Dublin, Ohio.

"She cried," Lee said of the proposal. "It was great. ... She understands everything because she's been through football with Adam, and she knows how demanding it is."

No one is more demanding on Lee than himself. It's one of the attributes that has helped him become one of the best kickers in Pitt history.

Lee's 87 consecutive successful point-after tries is a school record. His 12 consecutive field goals in 2007 tied Chris Ferencik for another mark. And Lee needs to make seven field goals to break Carson Long's career record of 45.

Lee also is tied with Larry Fitzgerald for fourth in career scoring, at 204 points, and he's on pace to finish behind only Tony Dorsett (380) and Long (268).

"Conor is not your typical kicker," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "Most of those kickers are a little bit strange, not one of the guys, where Conor is different that way. He understands the big picture, what we're trying to do on offense or defense. He understands his role. More importantly, he understands the importance of his role.

"He's a great asset. I just wish he had two more years."

For Lee, it's been a long and enjoyable ride.

He graduated from Upper St. Clair in 2003 and spent a semester at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy before walking on at Pitt in January 2004 and taking a redshirt.

Lee has worked hard to become a model of consistency for the Panthers.

Not only is he automatic on extra points, he has converted on 84.8 percent of field goals for his career, which leads the Big East Conference and ranks sixth nationally.

He was instrumental in Pitt's victories over two nationally ranked opponents last season, making three field goals in a 24-17 victory over Cincinnati and two field goals in a 13-9 victory at West Virginia, including a pivotal 48-yarder as time expired in the first half.

Lee went 4-for-4 on field goals in the 34-24 victory at Syracuse -- making from 40, 43, 44 and 25 yards -- to break a 33-year-old school record set by Long and matched by Nick Lotz in 2001 and David Abdul in '02.

"He's keeping it a one-score game, and I think that hidden yardage is invaluable," Wannstedt said. "It probably doesn't get talked about as much unless you win a game with a kick with no time left."

Kicking a game-winning field goal is something Lee has never done, but he lives for the opportunity.

Mr. Automatic
Here's a year-by-year look at Pitt kicker Conor Lee:
Year PAT FG Long Points
2008 12-12 9-10 44 39
2007 28-28 18-22 48 82
2006 47-47 12-14 47 83
Totals 87-87 39-46 48 204

"I'm so prepared for it that when I don't, it's a letdown," Lee said.

Lee has had his share of letdowns and is doing his best to avoid another. After Pitt beat No. 10 South Florida on Oct. 2, Lee and fifth-year senior safety Eric Thatcher reminded their teammates on the flight home that the 2006 Panthers started 6-1 before losing their final five games.

This time, Lee wants to go bowling.

"I want to prove to people that there are winners on this team, and we're going to win football games," Lee said. "You're always going to have naysayers. No matter how many kicks I make in my career, no matter how well I do, somebody is always going to say, 'This guy is better.'

"I'm sick of losing. Everyone here is sick of losing. Changing this program is important to me. This year could be a huge steppingstone."

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