Robert Lester will be a senior in the coming season. On top of the intangibles that will be expected of him, such as leadership on a relatively young defense, Lester will be expected to be one of the premiere safeties in college football.
Replacing a lights-out safety such as Mark Barron is a tall order, but here are some pieces of information that should have the Crimson Tide nation resting a little easier in the coming months.
Lester is no stranger to starting for the Crimson Tide. He started all 12 regular season games for the Tide last year on the run to their 14th national championship. Lester made 23 solo tackles in 2011 and tacked on two interceptions while he was at it.
Lester saw all 13 games as a starter for the Tide. He collected 29 solo tackles in his sophomore year while reeling in eight total interceptions (including one in the Capital One Bowl victory over Michigan State).
Lester was a redshirt freshman in 2008, when the Tide had a major letdown in the SEC Championship Game against Florida. He was a contributing player on the undefeated 2009 squad, and he was a starter on the three-loss 2010 squad.
If you want anyone leading this defense, it's Lester. He tasted the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in those 2009-2010 seasons. His personal experiences on the field those years qualify him better than most to lead this defense through the torturous 2012 season they are all facing.
He's gone from the bench to the field, and he's earned his right to start for the Tide consistently over the past two seasons. He's ready. He proved it by starting on the nation's best defense in 2011.
He knows all too well what all the fans are thinking, and he knows all too well how it feels to come up short. He will have this defense ready to compete from game one.
Sure, the players will listen to the coaches, but nobody will carry more weight with their words than the seniors on this team.
Lester has the whole package. He's ready from a development standpoint to take over this defense. He's ready from an experience standpoint to lead this defense into the top five nationally. He's ready from a hunger standpoint to prove that 2010 will not repeat itself.
For his performance in the spring game, he was awarded the Sylvester Croom Commitment to Excellence Award alongside Barrett Jones. If Lester is to the defense what Jones is to the offense, the Crimson Tide will be fine in 2012.
The seniors on this squad are going to be the difference-makers for the 2012 season, and Lester will make his mark in the secondary.
(His support staff will help him a lot all year, as he will be lining up with Vinnie Sunseri, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and John Fulton.)