He may not be the biggest player on the football field, but no one stands taller for Statesboro High than 5-foot-7 senior running back Aaron Lester.
Lester’s leadership and determination have never been as evident as they were Friday night against a tough Washington County squad. With running back Michael Summers injured and Dequan Daniels also hobbled, Statesboro turned to Lester throughout the second half and he responded with 92 yards on 14 carries, including a 26-yard touchdown run that brought the Devils from a 14-13 deficit to a 19-14 win in the final minutes .
“It was such a tough game,” said Lester. “Everyone on both teams was getting after it all night. On that last drive, our offensive line was doing such a great job making holes. They just kept on telling us to follow them, and we’d get the job done.”
Lester finished off the game-winning drive in impressive fashion.
Faced with thrid-and-15 from its own 26 and just 1:49 to play, the Devils lined up in their normal whishbone formation, apparently playing for a shot at a potential winning field goal. Instead, Lester took a handoff and – just a few yards past the line of scrimmage – plowed into two oncoming linebackers. Both defenders put solid hits on Lester, but he shook them off like flies and waltzed into the end zone to cap the scoring drive.
“We had come so far on that drive,” said Lester. “There was no way that I was going to let my team down. I just lowered my head and kept driving when I saw (the Washington County defenders) coming. I wasn’t going to go down for anything.”
Even more impressive than Lester’s late heroics was the fact that he did so with a heavy heart.
Lester lost his great-grandfather on the morning of the game, but was determined to suit up and play in his honor.
“He told me first thing in the morning that he was going to play in the memory of his great-grandfather,” said SHS coach Steve Pennington. “Just watching him out there, I think it’s perfectly clear the amount of heart and desire and love that he has for the game and for his family. I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Lester’s big night might be news to some – he battled injuries throughout the last two seasons and had just two rushing attempts in the Devils’ opener – but to everyone on the SHS sidelines, his ability to will his team on to victory would never be called into question.
“Aaron is a very special player,” said Pennington. “I don’t like to single people out, but he is the heart and soul of this team. Every player out there knows just how important he is to our success.”
As much of the credit that he defers to his teammates, Lester is also quick to share all of the celebration. Half an hour after the Devils had clinched the game, Lester remained on the grass of Womack Field, high-fiving and hugging anyone who would oblige.
“Everyone on this team is my brother,” said Lester. “I love all of these guys with all my heart. There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do for this team. I’m just happy that I was able to help us get a win.”
Lester and company now hit the road again in their final non-region matchup of the regular season. Friday, the Devils travel to Reidsville for a 7:30 matchup against Tattnall County.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.