Now, the 46-year-old Milton resident is passing along his hard-earned wisdom to young athletes through his training program.
Lester has devised a year-round program as part of NFL Play 60, which was designed by the National Football League to encourage youth fitness.
During his NFL career as a running back from 1992 to ’99, Lester played for the then-Los Angeles Rams (’92-’94), the Pittsburgh Steelers (’95-’98) and the Dallas Cowboys (’99).
He was known as “the Bus Driver” during his time with the Steelers, when he served as the main blocking back for star running back Jerome “the Bus” Bettis.
Having gone through the NFL made Lester realize that there had to be a better way to prepare young athletes for the tough physical challenges they will be facing in the sport.
“It started with the NFL Flag program last year,” Lester said. “I did the NFL Play 60 program and basically, I developed a year-round program to train youth athletes, to teach them the proper way to tackle, block and pretty much protect themselves.”
Lester is now in the midst of the second of two summer skills camps, which began Monday and lasts through Friday at the Milton High School stadium.
“Our program is built around a focus on the little things, so when the kids get into camp they can be successful,” he said.
The program also includes track sessions that will be held at Milton July 7, 10, 14, 17, 21, 25 and 28 and will be led by Milton track coach Lonnie Estes.
It features competitive leagues for both flag and tackle football in the fall as well as a tackle training program during the spring.
For Lester, the program is simply about learning the basics of the game.
“Kids do speed and agility training, then they come back and do football skills and we go into tackling drills for the kids that play tackle [football],” Lester said. “The have a section where we take them off and do a section on blocking and tackling and show them how to use their hands, how to place the helmet – all the fundamentals of football that you don’t have the time to teach once football starts, because you’re so busy to get your playbook in that you really forget about the little things.
The program includes various pieces of equipment that teaches young athletes to tackle and block in a safer way.
“We have some of the best equipment,” Lester said. “We have the S-Advantage tackle and blocking machine sled and the Kaboom Tackler, which is something that you can tackle without wearing a helmet. So basically, we can practice tackling year-round., without even wearing a helmet -- which is good, because a kid will not push his head if he doesn’t have a helmet on. He ducks his head. If you don’t have a helmet on, you’re going to keep your head up and basically, it’s training kids to do things the right way -- blocking and tackling.
“We’ve also got a thing called a tackle breaker. What it does is it teaches you to keep your feet moving, teaches you to keep your head up. It’s all about safety.”
A number of former NFL players, such as Bettis, Garrison Hearst, Randy McMichael and Willie Anderson, have been on hand this summer to help out with the camps and to learn more about the program so they can introduce it to their communities.
Expanding his version of the NFL Play 60 program is the next step for Lester, who said he wants to spread his message of more safety in football training.
“I kind of made mine into a complete program and basically what I’m doing is reaching out to retired players and saying, ‘Hey, you can start this thing in your community. You can go in there and you work with the young kids – inspire and motivate them to make good choices and stuff like that,’” Lester said.