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December 25, 2013

THE TIMES’ TOP 10 SPORTS STORIES OF THE YEAR (No. 7): Lee brothers take Auburn angling to new heights

Ever since the Prayer at Jordan-Hare and the infamous Kick Six, Auburn football has been the talk of the town.

That’s all well and good, but it’s paled in comparison to the way a pair of Auburn anglers have taken the country by storm. And unlike their gridiron counterparts, Matt and Jordan Lee haven’t had to rise up the rankings. No, at least one of these brothers, both Cullman High graduates, has been at the top of the college fishing circuit all year long.

Nearly seven months after edging Jordan on an extremely emotional final day of the College Bassmaster Classic Bracket, Matt had the fortune of living out his wildest dream. Decked out with a brand-new truck and boat fully wrapped in his college’s familiar orange and blue, the elder Lee took to the Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees in Tulsa, Okla., as the sole collegiate representative in a field of 53 at February’s Bassmaster Classic, aka the Super Bowl of bass fishing.

Though he missed out on qualifying for the last day of competition by traversing the freezing temperatures for a 46th-place finish, Matt couldn’t deny the experience was everything he imagined — and then some.

“It’s easy to say the Classic was terrible, but there are so many people that don’t ever get the opportunity,” Matt told The Times in February. “There are only 500 or so people who ever fished in the tournament, and for you to be one of them, it’s just special. To get to do it, it just makes the fire burn even more. You get a taste of it, see it firsthand, get involved in it and you realize it’s an achievable goal.”

While he was busy wrapping up a weigh-in, Matt’s brother and parents were onhand in Oklahoma during a ceremony announcing Cullman as the new location for the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame. The state-of-the-art facility is expected to be constructed in the coming years.

“That’s huge. This really puts Cullman on the map,” Matt said of his hometown’s selection. “It already was because of location, but now it’s actually got a landmark there people will recognize and remember.”

And here’s where the story gets sweeter than ever.

After two torturous years of runner-up results, Jordan finally had his day of redemption on Grand River in Michigan at this year’s College Bassmaster College Bracket. The younger Lee topped his Auburn teammate, Shane Powell, to follow in his brother’s footsteps as the lone collegiate representative at the 2014 Bassmaster Classic. The tournament of all bass fishing tournaments is slated for Feb. 21-23 on Lake Guntersville, a locale the Lees are extremely familiar with.

Jordan’s big win was capped off by Matt handing over the keys to the Tiger-themed truck and boat. He also hooked the biggest bass of the three-day event to haul in an additional $5,000 prize.

“It’s a dream come true to get to fish the Classic,” Jordan said after the triumph. “I’ve stayed focused all year and tried my best to be right here. I’m glad my family and all of my friends will be there when I fish the Classic. This is what every college angler wants.”

The Lees, easily the poster boys of college angling since their brother vs. brother battle in 2012, have continued to serve as shining ambassadors for the sport they love so dearly. They were certainly hot commodoties this year, roping in sponsors right and left and landing in multiple high-profile magazines — Matt graced the cover of BASSMASTER in February, while Jordan appeared in a June edition of TIME.

As spectacular as 2013 seemed to be for the Lees, 2014 has all the makings of being the duo’s best year yet.

Jordan has the Bassmaster Classic. Matt still has big dreams. Knowing these two, there’s no slowing down in sight.  

% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at robk@cullmantimes.com.

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