J.J. Lemming has the size — the Steilacoom High School senior is 6-foot-5, 215 pounds — and the arm strength to chuck a football 60 yards down the field.
The Sentinels quarterback carves out extra time around running start classes at Pierce College to spend mornings working out with his teammates, or running extra routes with them outside of mandatory practice times.
And he takes responsibility for the outcome of each game, and says he knows wins and losses ultimately rest on his shoulders, and depend on how well he leads his team.
“I like to run the show,” Lemming said. “I like to have guys fall in behind me. I like to have it in my hands — we’re going to win with your or lose with you.
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“I like to be that decision-maker, that guy who people are going to blame or people are going to say, ‘He’s the man.’ I like that pressure. It builds me.”
Lemming, who is one of three Division I prospects on Steilacoom’s roster, has fully embraced the role of quarterback and all that it entails.
“When he says something, you listen. When he does something, you watch and follow,” Steilacoom coach Colby Davies said.
Davies said Lemming has become an extension of the coaching staff on the field. Not only can he throw a football, but he’s a leader and good teammate.
“The biggest thing is how he treats people,” Davies said. “He just treats everyone the right way. He knows exactly what to say to each individual person to get them going. He has a real talent for being able to judge a room.”
Steilacoom has reached the state playoffs the past two seasons with Lemming under center. Last year, after an undefeated run through league play, the Sentinels advanced to the Class 2A state quarterfinals for the first time since 2003.
Lemming was named the 2A SPSL Sound MVP after throwing for 2,422 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2017.
This season, he has completed 35 of 71 passes for 560 yards and seven touchdowns in Steilacoom’s 2-0 start.
“I knew he was someone I wanted to follow because he had his head on straight,” said sophomore receiver Emeka Egbuka, who is considered a four-star recruit by 247Sports.com and has offers from Flordia State, Oregon and Oregon State.
“He wasn’t there to mess around. He has goals like me, and aspirations to play in college, and possibly after that.”
Lemming has one offer from Division II Southwest Minnesota State, but Davies expects his quarterback’s recruitment to pick up as his senior season continues. Lemming said he talks on a consistent basis with Mountain West schools San Diego State and Wyoming.
Schools most frequently note his arm strength, pocket presence and athletic ability.
“He’s a great quarterback,” said Egbuka, who leads the Sentinels in receiving with 11 catches for 263 yards and five touchdowns. “We have some good chemistry. If I know something is wrong, or he has to escape the pocket, I know where to go and he knows where I’m going to be, and he just puts balls in positions where I can make plays.
“He can fit really tight pockets, and obviously he has a cannon. The hard throws are easy for him.”
Lemming’s development as a passer is even more impressive considering he started as a wide receiver, and broke his throwing arm in his first game as a freshman.
He caught a screen pass at about the 20-yard line and a linebacker rolled over the top of him, crushing his arm. He had surgery and spent much of the school year rehabilitating his throwing motion.
“I was in the cast all the way until baseball season of my freshman year,” said Lemming, who is also a pitcher for the Sentinels. “I was just throwing the baseball and throwing the football as much as I (could) to get the mobility back.”
He returned his sophomore season to football, thinking he was going to be a back-up quarterback, but won the starting job. He threw for 2,409 yards and 27 touchdowns that season.
Lemming eclipsed 5,000 passing yards for his career in Steilacoom’s opening win over Lake Washington two weeks ago and has a 55.6 percent completion rate spanning his three seasons.
He said he’s worked with several quarterbacks coaches around the South Sound and Seattle to continue to refine his skills.
“I want to be the best I possibly can be,” Lemming said. “They say I have natural arm strength and natural arm talent, so it’s just getting my feet right, getting my shoulders square, just all of the little things.”
And, as he continues to progress as a passer, the Sentinels continue to find success on Friday nights.
Lemming says he thinks the Sentinels have always had talent on their roster, and wants this group to put it all together and make a deep playoff run.
“He doesn’t care about his own individual success,” Davies said. “He knows he’s the instrument that guides everything offensively, but he doesn’t care about himself. Everything he does is for his teammates. He’s one of the most selfless people I’ve been around.”
“I’m just trying to focus on this season right now, get these guys going, and be the leader I’m trying to be,” Lemming said.