Former LSU Star Jacob Hester Talks Les Miles, New TV Role and Life After the NFL

Carter Bryant@carterthepowerContributor IAugust 27, 2014

NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 07:  Jacob Hester #18 of the Louisiana State University Tigers runs the ball against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the AllState BCS National Championship on January 7, 2008 at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

Former LSU running back Jacob Hester has a reputation for breaking down defenses.

Hester was the Tigers' leading rusher on the 2008 BCS National Championship team. When given a clean hole to run through, he would bulldoze linebackers and safeties to earn the tough yards for his team.

Hester rushed for over 1,000 yards and earned second-team All-SEC honors for his efforts. His most memorable moment of his career came against Florida when he converted two fourth downs and scored the game-winning touchdown on the Tigers' final drive.

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 06:  Running back Jacob Hester #18 of the LSU Tigers looks toward the goalline as he comes up short against the Florida Gators at Tiger Stadium on October 6, 2007 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

The San Diego Chargers drafted Hester in the third round of the 2008 NFL draft. He served as a jack of all trades for the Chargers, playing multiple roles on offense and special teams. He was released in 2012 but was signed in late November by the Denver Broncos and served as a versatile piece in an injury-ridden backfield. 

After six successful seasons in the NFL, Hester has finally returned home to Louisiana. This time, though, he will be breaking down defenses off the field.  

Hester will serve as an analyst for Cox Sports Television's LSU Gameday Live, a college football preview show similar to ESPN's College Gameday. The show will air every Saturday that LSU plays, home and away, with the inaugural episode airing on Aug. 30, live from NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas. 

Hester currently resides in his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana, with his wife, Katie, and three boys. Bleacher Report caught up with the former Tigers captain to discuss his illustrious career, this year's LSU team, the future of college athletics and more.

Bleacher Report: What will you be doing this year on television?

Jacob Hester: I'm doing a new gig this year for Cox Sports Television, and we are doing a pregame show. Me, (former LSU center) Kevin Mawae and (LSU sideline reporter) Gordy Rush. We will be on location, home and away. It will be live, every game day, from 11 until noon (CT). I am excited about that. Playing in the NFL, I was only able to go to one game a year with the bye week. The chance to get to go to away games is even more exciting for me because I never got to do that while in the NFL. It's going to be different getting on the media side of things, but I am excited.

B/R: Is your NFL career officially over?

Hester: Yeah, I think so. I had a chance to go to camp this year, but I politely declined. I had this gig at LSU (with CST), I have three boys and my wife here in Shreveport. Didn't want to do the whole year contract, moving across the country here and there. Tough as it was, I think getting into TV is kind of the route I always wanted to go after football. And with this opportunity, I didn't want to turn it down for a maybe chance at the NFL. I was lucky to play six years, got my retirement invested. So I'm blessed beyond belief, and now I am a transitioning into a new career.

B/R: What was it like playing with Peyton Manning?

Hester: The most unbelievable experience you can have. People use the cliche that he "is like a coach on the field," but that doesn't even begin to describe what Peyton was. He made everybody around him better. We had a very good offensive coordinator in Adam Gase, and he has a great offense. Peyton would be able to get you in the best possible play. The play call is obviously before the defense sets up. Once they are set up, you have to adjust to it. Peyton is the best I have ever seen at adjusting and getting the right play called from what the original play was.

Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

B/R: Do you fear about your future health after playing football for so long?

Hester: It's tough. The game is such a violent game, especially the position I played, playing fullback and running back. There is a lot of head injuries, and I don't know what you can do to prevent it. It's just the nature of the game, and there is definitely a scare. It's not only concussions, you have guys that didn't even know they had concussions that are having memory loss and different head injuries. The scariest part about it is it doesn't necessarily hit you right away. It can be years later when you are having symptoms.

B/R: You were only a 2-star recruit, per Rivals, coming out of high school. How were you so successful?

Hester: You know, I think it was the first year they did the star rating stuff. And obviously going to a school like LSU, we have 5-star and 4-star guys. Not many of us, I actually might have been the only 2-star guy. But that motivated me. I knew people like that didn't expect a lot from me going to LSU. When I got there, it was my goal to be the first freshman to play in the class. That was all I focused on all summer, and I was fortunate enough to be the first freshman of the '04 class to start a game. My whole career kind of went like that. They told me I was going to play fullback, but got a chance to play running back for LSU. I kind of thrived off always being a 2-star recruit and always being a guy that was not supposed to do a whole lot at LSU.

Former LSU running back Jacob Hester and quarterback Matt Flynn
Former LSU running back Jacob Hester and quarterback Matt FlynnChuck Burton/Associated Press

B/R: What do you think of the college recruiting rankings?

Hester: To be honest, I just don't know how you can do it. I don't know how you can rate a kid playing against certain talent opposed to a kid playing against other talent. In Louisiana, I am biased, but I think we are in the top three in high school football in the country. Texas, Florida and Louisiana, in my opinion, are the top three states. So, you see, a kid from Louisiana who is dominating is a little bit different if a kid in Maine, or somewhere else, is dominating...As soon as you get on campus, coaches forget all about that (rankings). I think Coach Miles is one of the best in the country, he doesn't care really how many stars you have once you get there. I think rankings are a little overrated. I understand why they do it. It creates excitement, but it also creates some pressure for some kids too.

B/R: What does the No. 18 jersey mean to you?

Hester: It means the world to me. It really does. Not only for the guys continuing to wear it, but for my family. My boys being able to go into a store and seeing a No. 18 jersey. To tell my boys kind of what it means to be a Tiger on and off the field. What kind of person it really takes to wear it. It is special each and every time. I'm sure by the time they are 21, they will be tired of me telling them. As of yet, it hasn't gotten old yet.

LSU No. 18s Since 2000
2000-2004Matt MauckQB
2004-2007Jacob HesterRB
2008-2010Richard DicksonTE
2011Brandon TaylorSS
2012Bennie LoganDT
2013Lamin BarrowLB
2014Terrence MageeRB
LSU Sports Information

B/R: Terrence Magee will wear No. 18 in 2014. What do you think of Magee carrying on the tradition?

Hester: I think he (Magee) is the perfect fit for it. He was a guy that got to LSU and kind of waited his time. He didn't get a whole lot of playing time his first couple of years at LSU. And if Jeremy Hill didn't get suspended last year, he might not have gotten that playing time, to be honest with you. He made the most of the time he got, he broke onto the scene. Talking to Coach Miles, he did everything the right way. He handled himself as well as you could. I'm glad No. 18 is coming back to the offensive side of the ball and a guy like Magee.

B/R: What do you think of Leonard Fournette?

Hester: He is really mature, not only in football, but off the field as well. Sitting there talking with him, he looks like he is 35 years old already with the beard and the way he is built. He is going to be a special player at LSU. When you do talk about recruits, he played against the top competition in Louisiana and dominated each and every year. He will be a special player from game one on August 30 against Wisconsin.

B/R: How do you see the running back position playing out?

Hester: LSU is never going to have a true starting running back. As far back as when I was there, in '04, '05, '06, we always had a 1a, 1b and 1c. It was never going to be one guy that gets 30 carries. It was one guy get 15, the next guy gets 10, the other guy gets five. That's how it is going to be. I think you will see (Kenny) Hilliard, Magee and Fournette all get a lot of carries.

B/R: Who was the best running back that played under Miles at LSU?

Hester: You're talking about some really great football players. Stevan Ridley, Charles Scott, Keiland Williams, but the guy I would point to is Joseph Addai. When I got to LSU, I (had) never seen a football player as complete as him. Pass blocking, catching, running. He was the guy that I looked to that I tried to be like the most.

B/R: Does it mean anything to you that you have the longest run of the Miles era, an 87-yard touchdown against Louisiana Tech? 

Hester: Ha! Yeah, a little bit. Just because I was kind of known for four yards here, five yards there, 4th-and-1s, so it was kind of special against an in-state opponent like Tech scoring on a long run in Tiger Stadium. Playing the way that I did, I did not get many chances to get to open up like that. So once I got the chance to do that, nobody is going to catch me. I think that was the fastest I have ever ran. 

B/R: Who was the best running back you have ever played against?

Hester: I think it was a no-brainer when I was in school. It was Darren McFadden. I could never beat him out for All-SEC. He deserved every bit of that. He was a man amongst boys.

Former Arkansas running back Darren McFadden
Former Arkansas running back Darren McFaddenAlex Brandon/Associated Press

B/R: Do you think you could have run the Wildcat like McFadden did?

Hester: Ha! I think that whole deal was so special. And a lot of people tried to do it like they did it, and he had a special talent for it. Maybe Ronnie Brown with the Dolphins, but I had never (seen) anybody run the way he did it.

B/R: What made the 2007 LSU national championship team special?

Hester:  I think we had a great group of seniors. We had a lot of leaders. We did not have many guys leave early. We made an effort to all stay through our senior years. You look at Matt Flynn, who waited his turn. He could have played for anybody in the country, but he happened to be behind JaMarcus (Russell), the No. 1 pick in the draft. He (Flynn) stayed with it, got to lead us to the national championship. You look at guys like Glenn Dorsey. He could have left early, but he came back, played his senior year and really had a special year.

B/R: How difficult was it to convince everyone to come back?

Hester: It's tough. You can't fault the guys that do leave. If you have a chance to be a first-day pick, how can you tell those guys not to do it? It is such a special moment. But I think we, as a group, talked about how special of a team we could have if we all came back. I think those guys unselfishly put getting money that year away and came back and had a team effort. Early Doucet and Glenn Dorsey could have left early and got drafted pretty high, but they came back and were key members of our team.

(From L to R) Former LSU quarterback Matt Flynn, defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, President George W. Bush, head coach Les Miles and running back Jacob Hester.
(From L to R) Former LSU quarterback Matt Flynn, defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, President George W. Bush, head coach Les Miles and running back Jacob Hester.Alex Wong/Getty Images

B/R: How good were you on the wheel route?

Hester: Ha! It is definitely a route we ran a lot of, especially when Jimbo Fisher was there. The most memorable one hurts. We were playing Arkansas in '07, as we hit one for about 65 yards and got called back because one of our receivers was not on the line of scrimmage. We ended up losing that game in triple overtime.

B/R: What do you remember the most about that loss against Arkansas? What did it say about your football team's resiliency to come back and win two championships in two games after that loss? 

Hester: We thought we were done. We were still lucky enough to go to the national championship. We had to have four or five things go our way, which, at the time, we thought there was no way in the world that any of that would happen. We had to beat a good Tennessee football team in the SEC championship. (Arkansas) had a pretty memorable running attack with Felix Jones, McFadden and Peyton Hillis. They were a good football team that beat us on that day. Credit to the kind of guys that we had. It didn't matter. We went out and beat Tennessee, and those four or five things happened on our flight to Baton Rouge from Atlanta.

B/R: What was your favorite memory of playing with Les Miles?

Hester: That he trusted us. A lot of coaches wouldn't have done what he did when making the fourth-down calls and giving us the faith that he gave us. He really truly believed in each and every one of us in almost every situation. And that's hard to do.

LSU head coach Les Miles (left) and Jacob Hester (right)
LSU head coach Les Miles (left) and Jacob Hester (right)Alex Brandon/Associated Press

B/R: LSU's victory over Florida in 2007 required five fourth-down conversions, two of which you earned on the final drive. The second one, at first glance, looked short. Did you feel like you made both of them? 

Hester: I honestly felt like I got every one of them. The one you are talking about, I know at first glance it didn't look like we got it. Luckily enough, I got some forward lean and we barely got it. Gosh they were all close, and obviously it was a situation where they knew we were running the ball and we knew we were running the ball. Our offensive line and tight ends had a heck of a game that game and we were very fortunate to convert all those fourth downs because the percentages are not with you. It was a pretty special night on a pretty special year.

B/R: What does it feel like to run somebody over?

Hester: That mentality was something my dad instilled in me at a very young age. My dad was in the Marines and law enforcement for 30 years. He was a tough-nosed kind of guy, and he always told me, "You run over a guy, you will get two extra yards every time. And if you have 20 carries, you have 40 extra yards that will help your team win a football game." That just always stuck with me. Always lean forward. Always fall forward. Or else you get pushed back.

Jacob Hester Career LSU Statistics
AttemptsYardsReceptionsRec. YardsTD's
LSU Sports Information

B/R: Should college football players be compensated?

Hester: I go back and forth on it. You look at it in some ways. My jersey is in the book store, what an honor, what a privilege to say that is the jersey that they carry. You see people around campus wearing it. And, then, you step back and look at it. You are like, "Well, there are people making a lot of money on those jersey sales, and the person that is on it is not getting any money for it. And they might be struggling through college." It is a very slippery slope. Obviously a team like LSU, in the Southeastern Conference, they make a lot of money and the kids are the reason they make it. I don't know how you would do it, or what format you would do it. I don't know how you make it fair for every other sport.

B/R: How do you view the SEC West?

Hester: It is going to be a little bit different this year. Texas A&M loses their quarterback, LSU losing a quarterback, Alabama losing a quarterback. It is going to be a little bit of a different look. Mississippi State seems to be the "it pick" to be the dark horse, and Ole Miss is going to be good again. And Auburn, coming off a national championship game, there is not really a weak team in the SEC West this year.

B/R: Overall thoughts on LSU in 2014?

Hester: This year's LSU team is going to be a special group. They are kind of flying under the radar, which is always good, in my opinion. They have a special freshman class, which is going to be key. When you go visit LSU and are around those guys, you hear the trainers, the strength staff say there is not a bad guy in the class. Just being around them the couple of days I have been around them, I can feel something a little different about them. They are more mature above their years, and they are going to be expected to play and contribute. A lot of LSU's season kind of rides on those guys.

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.com and LSU Sports Information. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Jacob Hester on Twitter @JacobHester22 and me @CarterthePower