'You Really Learn For The First Time In College'
Now awaiting his senior season for the Cougars, Lee Pitts earned his bachelor's degree in communication in May. He is currently enrolled in APU's Master of Public Administration program.
Now awaiting his senior season for the Cougars, Lee Pitts earned his bachelor's degree in communication in May. He is currently enrolled in APU's Master of Public Administration program.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020
by Blake Timm, Assistant Commissioner For Communications

AZUSA, Calif. – The walls of Ron Pitts’ office are lined with awards. Not his own awards but those of his sons, Lee and Shea.

There are youth football awards, all-conference honors and college accolades for Shea, who is a defensive back at UCLA, and for Lee, a senior cornerback at Azusa Pacific.

But there are two honors that Lee is quick to point out that stand out prominently on his dad’s wall of honor: his GNAC Academic All-Conference certificate and his undergraduate degree in communication from Azusa Pacific. The two are visual reminders of how Lee has developed as a person.

“I wasn’t always a good student,” Lee Pitts said. “I was actually a pretty bad student up until college. School was really hard for me. Then I came to college and it hit me that if I wanted to do something with my life besides sports then I was going to have to take my education into my own hands.”

Both football and higher education are a common thread in the Pitts family. Lee’s grandfather, Elijah, graduated from Philander Smith College in Alabama and enjoyed an 11-year NFL career. He scored two touchdowns for the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl I before spending 23 years as an NFL and CFL assistant coach. Ron played at UCLA, spent five years in the NFL and now serves as a college football analyst on the CBS Sports Network.

Now that he is in college, things are different. Lee Pitts is not only enjoying learning but excelling. Enrolled in Azusa Pacific’s Master of Public Administration program, Lee made the GNAC Academic All-Conference Team with a 3.21 GPA while seeing action in three games.

“I always knew that I could articulate myself. I can articulate what I am feeling and I have always enjoyed learning about stuff I don’t know about,” Lee said. “Just not the stuff I was learning about in high school. You really get to learn for the first time in college.”

It wasn’t that Lee Pitts had difficulty learning. It’s just that what he was learning wasn’t interesting to him.

Lee admits that it was hard for him to be motivated by the basics that high school teaches, the basics designed to be the building blocks for life. “I am one of those guys where I need to see the purpose before doing stuff,” he said. “In middle school and high school, I was learning stuff that I didn’t feel was interesting or useful.”

Lee applied himself in high school and showed that he was every bit as smart as the other students at Oaks Christian High School who were making the grade. Not only was Lee a two-sport athlete in football and baseball but also was an active member of the school’s speech and debate team.

“I was always told, ‘Hey Lee, you’re really a smart kid.’ But my grades never reflected that,” Lee said. “I didn’t see the purpose of memorizing poetry by Shakespeare and do that for a grade. I just didn’t see how I was going to need that moving forward.”

Lee Pitts was talented enough to receive the opportunity to play football at Division I Arizona. While the life of a Division I football player makes it easy to coast through class and focus only on football, it was there that Lee Pitts discovered the value of education.

He was on his own, in a different state, making his own way. He had to take charge.

“If a bad grade shows up on my report card or progress report, there is no one to blame but myself,” Lee said. “My mom wasn’t around to tell me to do my homework anymore. I had to take care of myself. I think that is what made me take on a new level of accountability.”

And the subject matter? College students still have to take classes in the basics but students quickly specialize in subjects that interest them. For Lee Pitts, that made education interesting.

“When I got into college, to me, that is when I really started learning because I was around all of these different people, all of these different perspectives,” he said. “I am in classes that I never knew existed. I was immersed in so many of these great classes that offer so many things. I was ecstatic.”

Lee also learned that Division I football is a grind and not one that he found enjoyment in. You wake up, practice, go to class and study hall, eat, sleep and repeat. In his year-and-a-half at Arizona, Lee had two defensive back coaches. There seemed to be no sense of continuity. He wanted a different experience.

While Lee had heard of Azusa Pacific University, he never seriously considered the Cougars coming out of high school. When it came time for Lee to return home, though, the chance to play just an hour from his family was attractive. And Azusa Pacific made it clear that the Cougars were interested in him.

“I had a couple of other opportunities when I left Arizona but they didn’t seem as reassuring as Azusa Pacific,” Lee said. “I felt like I belonged there. It ended up being one of the better decisions I made in my life.”

The man who wasn’t interested in his high school subject matter is now enrolled in Azusa Pacific’s Master of Public Administration program. Ask him about his courses and it is hard to get Lee Pitts to stop. He compares public administration to be being part of a football team. You have to plan, practice and execute to keep a city running.

“When we think of government, we immediately think of politics. There are so many bigger things in the world of the public sector,” Lee said. “The reason that we have water coming into our houses is because of the public sector. If there is something wrong and water can’t get to people’s homes, then that is falling right on the public sector. It’s a big responsibility.

“I like to learn how things get here, why things are the way they are. How do we get water? How do we get electricity? How do we get public parks? Why do some cities look nicer than others? How do taxes get sent to different cities and counties? It’s a problem-solving mentality in a lot of ways and for me, it is interesting to learn about.”

While Lee’s mother often joked growing up that he would run for president, he is not interested in pursuing politics. Even with the newfound interest in public administration, Lee is still not sure what career path he will pursue.

With an undergraduate degree in communication, will he follow his father into broadcasting? It’s a possibility but not a given.

“My dad graduated with a degree in communications and my mom graduated with a degree in communications,” Lee said. “But my dad told me not to follow in his footsteps but to branch out and do whatever I wanted to do.”

Lee still hopes for the chance to play at the next level. He would love to make it to the NFL and dreams of becoming the third generation of his family to play for the Packers. At the end of the day, though, Lee knows that there is more to life than football.

“We use football as a way to, first and foremost, get an education. It provides an opportunity to get an education that not everyone gets,” Lee said. “But football has a shelf life. We love the game and we are going to enjoy it for as long as we can but it’s not something where we sit there and are stuck because it is all that we have had all our life.

“Football is a means to an end. We can only play it for so many years and we are blessed to be able to play it.”

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