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Courtesy: WMU

2011 Hall of Fame Spotlight: Tim Lester - Football

Courtesy: Stefan Sekula, media relations staff assistant
Release: 10/25/2011
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2011 Hall of Fame Spotlight:  Tim Lester - Football

Western Michigan University will be inducting six new members to its Athletic Hall of Fame this year.  Each of the athletes will be featured on the athletic website on a daily basis starting on Saturday October 22, 2011.  Tim Lester is the third to be featured.

Tim Lester was a key part in the great success the Western Michigan football team had between 1996-1999.  He was part of the class that took Western Michigan football team from a team that posted a record of 2-9 in 1996 to a MAC West Championship in 1999.  Tim was the first quarterback in Western Michigan history to have back-to-back 3,000 yard passing seasons.  He closed out his career at Western Michigan representing the Broncos at the All-Star Gridiron Classic in Florida.  Lester now coaches college football at Elmhurst College. 

We recently had a chance to sit down with Tim and ask him a few questions about his career at Western Michigan and his dedication to the sport of football.

Q:  What got you involved in Football?

A:  I started playing football in third grade mainly because all of my buddies were playing. All my friends that I played baseball and t-ball with all played that in the fall, so I decided to join the team.

Q:  Can you describe your first practice at WMU?

A:  Back when I came to Western, was back in the day when the freshmen came into camp before the varsity did, so it was all freshmen.  I can remember not knowing anyone on the team.  It was good, back then when they got all the freshmen in early, because it gave us a chance to jell as a group.  I can remember the speed of the whole thing.  I remember being overwhelmed by how fast everyone was, how fast everything moved, and trying to grasp the offense.  It was hectic, but it was fun because the varsity wasn't there.  It was all freshmen and we were doing more things wrong than we did right.

Q:  Can you describe your first football game at WMU?

A:  Nervous is the best way I can describe it.  I was redshirted my first year, so my first start was my sophomore year against Eastern Illinois.  It was just bottled up nerves.  I don't even remember the game because I was so nervous and I was trying not to make any mistakes.  It is just a night and day difference from when you are a freshman stepping on the field and when you are a senior stepping out on to the field; you approach everything differently.

Q:  What was your reaction to being named MAC Freshman of the Year in 1996?

A:  I was happy, but I was not happy about my performance that year.  It was a really rough year for me.  I was playing a position of importance and my numbers were okay.  I was not happy with the win-loss percentage.  I felt like I was a large part of those losses as a freshman.  We went two and nine; that was just a disappointing year for me and the team.  Our defense was phenomenal, and offensively we just couldn't come out and perform at a high enough level to win more games.  I was proud of the accomplishment, but offensively it was just a disappointing year. 

Q:  You were the first quarterback in WMU history to have back to back seasons with 3,000 passing yards.  What contributed to this great success in the passing game?

A:  Three things stand out as large contributions to the success of our passing game.  One thing was the outstanding receiving corps. There were a lot of great athletes that communicated well with me, and we were always on the same page.  Our offensive line and running backs were also outstanding.  People do not understand that Robert Sanford was a key instrument in what we did in the passing game; he was a force back there that they knew we would use.  They had to try to stop him, and they knew if they didn't we were going to pound the rock on them.  The coaching staff also helped tremendously.  Couch [Bill] Cubit came in and brought in an offense that was very versatile, and he put a lot faith in us to go out and be aggressive.  It was just a total night and day difference in offense from when I started under Coach [Al] Molde's regime.  So the combination of having the line there, good running backs, great receivers, and a good scheme helped us do what we did for the years we did it.

Q:  What was it like to play in the All-Star Gridiron Classic in Florida your senior year?

A:  It was fun to see all the other seniors across the country that were good players.  I ended up playing on the Florida team.  The story about that game was that if you were a senior and played for a school in Florida, or if you were originally from Florida you played on the Florida team.  If you were from anywhere else in the country you were on the other team.  I actually played on the Florida team because they did not have enough quarterbacks.  I did get to see a lot of the guys that I played against earlier in the year.  That year we opened up against the University of Florida at Florida.  Doug Johnson was on my team, and a lot of other guys I played against were on that team.  It was fun just to play at that level with that many great athletes.  It was an honor to represent the school.

Q:  What was your most memorable moment while competing for WMU?

A:  The game I remember the most while at Western would be the game when we won the MAC West.  We clinched the MAC West when we beat Akron in October on Halloween weekend.  We clinched it pretty early and still had two games left and we were already the champions.  The moment that I remember the most was when we got back from the Akron game and got off the buses and celebrated because no matter what we were going to play in the MAC Championship Game.  Your goal going into the season is to win a MAC Championship.  It was just the feeling of what the team accomplished to cross that threshold and get into the MAC Championship Game that made it memorable.

Q:  After competing for WMU you played professionally for the Arena Football League and the XFL.  How did playing professionally differ from playing in the college level?

A:  It is much different.  It is not the same family atmosphere.  You have a job to do and you get your job done.  Which is the same as when I played for Western Michigan, but you just do not have the relationships with the players. When I was a senior and standing at the line of scrimmage, I could tell you anything you wanted to know about any guy on the field: where he was from, his mom, his dad, his girlfriend, a funny story about him, or almost anything else.  You just emotionally were attached to every one of the guys on your team.  In the professional level you only get to know them about a month before you start, and people are getting cut and traded.  It is still about the football and the x's and o's and getting your job done, but it is a lot less about having relationships with the players on your team.  It is definitely a different feel.

Q:  How did being a student athlete translate into being a coach?

A:  In college, I majored in math education.  I always wanted to be a high school math teacher and a coach growing up.  Coach Cubit was the first one to tell me that I was going to be a college football coach, and I told him he was crazy because those guys work way to many hours.  When I was done with college and in between arena seasons, I was coaching high school football and I really did not enjoy it.  Coach Cubit was right and he actually made a bet with me that within 10 years of me being a senior that we would both be coaching together in the college ranks and he was right.  Five years later we were coaching together and he won that bet.  The college game is philosophy and strategy and that was so embedded in my brain that when I got to the high school level, it was not the same game.  It was not about teaching them about blitzes and protection and coverage's, and how to beat them, it was about teaching them how to block and tackle.  I knew after one or two seasons of coach high school that it was not for me and college football is where I needed to be.  

Q:  Can you tell me a little about your life after competing in athletics?

A:  I don't think it ever leaves you.  As a head coach at Elmhurst College, I still get calls from companies all the time that are not looking for people from Elmhurst College, but are looking for players, ex-athletes.  So it is still part of what you do every day.  The working out and the way you approach different tasks is still the same.  The mentality of how you work and how you take pride in your work on and off the field.  It definitely carries over into life. 

Q:  What was your initial reaction after finding out that you were going to be inducted into the WMU Athletic Hall of Fame?

A:  I was shocked.  Somebody had mentioned it to me six months before that I might be eligible this year, but I thought that there was a time eligibility, and I did not think I was out long enough.  After this I totally forgot about it.  My dad passed away on May 13 this past year, and I was totally engrossed in those matters and it totally caught me off guard.  I saw the area code when I picked up the phone and figured they wanted money.  I was shocked when they told me I had made it; I was so happy and proud.  I feel lucky to have been there at a time when all the pieces fit together very well from the administration to the school, to the coaching staff, to the players who were recruited.  I was there at a special time and I was lucky to a part of that time.

Q:  Do you have any advice for student athletes or students in general?

A:  In my line of work I try to teach them to understand the value of work and the quality of the value of the work that you do. Today if things don't go well you can just easily log out and go to a different website.  There are a lot more easy outs today than when I was in school.  The game of football or any competitive environment doesn't change, it stays very simple.  Trying to get athletes to understand that the quality of the work you put in will definitely carry over to the competitive environment when you get in games can be difficult.  That is the hardest part of our jobs is to get through to our guys that you just don't jog around all week and go out and play.  It is a hard work mentality.  I have met a ton of great people through the whole process from playing at the gridiron, to meeting all these professional athletes, through all the things, it is just the common work ethic you see in all these people.  Being around Greg Jennings and seeing his work ethic; people don't realize how much these people put into their game and their job.  This is a quality I wish people could see more of. 

Tim Lester feels honored to be inducted into the Western Michigan Athletic Hall of Fame.  He would like to thank all those that contributed to the great success of the football program in the late 1990's  He looks at his induction into the Hall of Fame as a testament to not only him, but as a recognition to what that team accomplished.