By Morgan Prewitt
As the 2015 football season approaches, the DIG Sports staff decided to take a look back and rank the top ten LSU players of the Les Miles era (2005-present). The Tigers have had 64 players drafted into the NFL with Miles at the helm, and the program led all schools with 38 former players on active NFL rosters during the opening weekend of the 2014 season.
No. 8 Jacob Hester
Position: Fullback/Running back
Career Highlight: Running over Florida Safety Major Wright
Eye-Popping Stat: Recorded his first career 100-yard rushing game in the Tigers’ 28-24 win against No. 7 Florida with 106 yards
NFL draft: 2008 / Round 3 / 69th overall pick / San Diego Chargers
Jacob Hester does not have the shelf full of All-Southeastern Conference and national accolades typically found throughout any list of the best players during the Les Miles era.
Hester was never a candidate for the Heisman Trophy. His name didn’t pop up on any national award watch lists, yet Hester was instrumental in LSU’s run to its third national championship in 2007.
From the Tigers’ legendary battle with No. 9 Florida to the 2007 BCS National Championship Game against top-ranked Ohio State, Hester was Miles’ go-to back when the game was on the line.
Hester’s combination of power and deceptive speed stole the show against the Gators, with his team-leading 106 rushing yards, the first 100-yard game of his career.
When LSU trailed Florida, 24-21, with 9:20 remaining in the fourth quarter, Hester rose to the status of legend by dominating the Gators’ defense and tallying 39 out of the total 60 yards of Tigers’ final drive.
After extending the drive with a two-yard run on 4th-and-1, Hester took his next touch 19-yards into Florida’s secondary before trucking over Freshman All-SEC safety Major Wright.
Hester earned another set of downs with a two-yard rush on 4th-and-1, and then he drove in the game-winning touchdown to cap one of the most iconic games of the Miles’ decade.
For the first time in his career, the Shreveport native gained national attention the following week, collecting the Sporting News National Player of the Week and SEC Offensive Player of Week honors.
Hester’s tendency to play his best under the brightest lights translated onto the games’ biggest stage when the Tigers took on the Buckeyes for the national championship title just an hour away from Tiger Stadium in the Superdome in New Orleans.
Despite LSU’s offensive struggles in the first quarter, Hester established a strong base for the running game with 41 rushing yards, 30 of which came on the Tigers’ first scoring drive of the game.
After quarterback Matt Flynn earned LSU’s first two touchdowns through the air, Hester powered in the Tigers’ only rushing touchdown with 4:16 left in the half from the one-yard line.
Against Ohio State, Hester led LSU’s ground attack with 86 yards and notched the team’s only rushing touchdown of the title game, capping off LSU’s 21 unanswered points in the second quarter.
Hester’s ability to contribute in multiple ways was a key to his success throughout his LSU career. In 2007 alone, Hester led the Tigers in both rushing yards (1,103) and all-purpose yards (1,209).
Along with his production on the field, Hester’s leadership and character off the field helped create the tradition of handing down the No. 18 jersey.
Hester was bequeathed the jersey in 2003 by former LSU quarterback Matt Mauck, who wanted the jersey to represent what an LSU football player should be on and off the field – selfless.
Throughout his career, Hester exemplified selflessness by playing whatever role was necessary to better the team whether it was blocking or converting fourth downs in key moments.
Following Hester’s graduation, the No. 18 jersey has come a symbol of leadership and its passing has become a time honored Tiger tradition.