Longshot Lester Captures Fullback Job Out of the Blocks : Rams: Former 10th-round pick's ferocious hits catch the eye of Coach Chuck Knox.


Tim Lester is the Ram running back no one talks about.

With all the injuries and potential in the Ram backfield--not to mention Cleveland Gary's holdout--who has time for a guy who has two healthy legs and is happy about his contract?

So Lester just goes about his business, anonymously.

"I prefer it like that, as long as the coaches notice me," Lester said. "You keep doing what you got to do and you get what you deserve. Eventually. Hopefully."

This was a guy who was given little chance of making the Rams a year ago. He was a 10th-round draft pick from Eastern Kentucky--hardly the center of the college football world.

But making football teams is easy, at least in comparison to Lester's other struggles.

There was an automobile accident that threatened his life. A severe knee injury that nearly ended his football career.

Then, just when things were going smoothly, life punched him on the solar plexus one more time. Hurricane Andrew swept through Florida last summer and severely damaged his parents' house in Miami, leaving them homeless.

A week later, the Rams made their final cuts and Lester was still around.

"I remember it was just before the last exhibition game and I asked Tim how he was doing," said Frank Murtha, Lester's agent. "He said, 'Tell the Rams they can't cut me. I don't have a house to go home to.' Right then, I knew Tim would be OK."

Lester, 5 feet 9, 215 pounds, is doing a little better than OK these days. He is the Rams' starting fullback.

True, the job fell in his lap when David Lang--who was No. 1 on the depth chart--injured his knee and was lost for three months. Jerome Bettis, the Rams' top draft pick, was working at tailback and fullback, then sprained an ankle.

That pretty much left Lester as the only fullback. But he has done nothing to jeopardize his position.

Lester is the team's second leading receiver through three exhibition games, with seven catches for 92 yards. He has rushed for 51 yards, averaging 4.3 per carry. And then there's his blocking ability, which got him noticed a year ago.

"Yeah, he'll get out there and block some people," Ram Coach Chuck Knox said. "I liked that. He's a very hard working guy and makes things happen."

Lester has worked hard to hear such praise.

Lester attended Miami Southridge High School, where he was a teammate of Robert Bailey--the Rams' bash-then-trash defensive back. Bailey went to the University of Miami, where his skills and tongue fit the program. Lester, more reserved, signed to play at Eastern Kentucky.

"It wasn't like I had a lot of offers," Lester said. "Eastern Kentucky and Howard were my only choices."

During the summer before his freshman year, Lester was about to make a left turn one night when another driver ran a red light and slammed into the side of his car.

"The only thing left was my seat," Lester said. "Everything else was smashed. If there had been any passengers in my car, they would have died. I was sitting in the only spot that was left. I was lucky."

Not too lucky. Lester suffered a third-degree concussion and had internal bleeding. The injuries forced him to miss summer practice at Eastern Kentucky.

Even when he got to school, Lester couldn't play. He still suffered from headaches caused by the concussion. Some thought his career might have been over before it started.

"I knew Tim, so I knew he'd be back," Bailey said. "People were talking like he'd never play again. But if you've been racing cars all your life, then crash and burn half your body, you'd still come back to driving. I knew Tim would work his way back."

He did.

Lester returned the following season and made up for the lost time. He gained 1,293 yards and was named the Ohio Valley Conference rookie of the year. Big things lay ahead, or so he thought.

The following season, in a game against Delaware State, Lester felt a twinge in his knee.

"I came out of the game, they checked it and said it was fine," Lester said. "I went back in and on the next play a guy hit me on the same knee. I knew it was over."

Lester underwent reconstructive surgery on his right knee and missed the rest of the season.

"I never felt so sorry for a kid in my life," Eastern Kentucky Coach Roy Kidd said. "First the car wreck, then the knee. You hate to see that happen to anyone, but especially to a class kid like Tim. He was down, but I never had a kid who worked as hard to get back."

Lester again came back. He gained 3,635 yards and scored 37 touchdowns during his three-year career at Eastern Kentucky. In one game against Tennessee Tech, he gained 291 yards in 41 carries and scored three touchdowns.

Most NFL scouts seemed unimpressed. The Rams, though, took an interest. They even sent assistant Chick Harris to Kentucky to test Lester.

The Rams drafted him, but not until the 10th round.

"I came in as an underdog," Lester said. "I wanted to show people. That's what Coach Harris told me to do. So I came in with that attitude."

That attitude was expressed mostly through his blocking. Lester opened some eyes with his fierce hits.

"I'm just glad Tim's on my team," Bailey said. "He's too big and tough to play against."

But Lester found concentrating difficult after word came that his parents' home had been damaged during the hurricane. The house lost its roof and the interior was badly beat up.

His parents have been living in a trailer ever since. He said repairs on the home are expected to be completed soon.

"Somehow Tim persevered," Bailey said. "He's been strong like that ever since I've known him. We used to run together in a pretty tough neighborhood. One of the toughest. He can handle himself."

Lester handled himself well last season. His duties were limited to special teams and blocking for other runners. He didn't carry the ball once, but that was OK.

He just went about his business.

"I guess I have been through some bad times," Lester said. "But that just makes me appreciate every little thing I get."

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