Small school, big dreams

NFL draft: Morgan State receiver Marc Lester hopes to become the first Bear drafted since 1981.

Pro Football

April 17, 2002|By Kevin B. Howell | Kevin B. Howell,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Tennessee's Donte Stallworth and Florida's Jabar Gaffney are big-play receivers from big-time college football programs expected to be selected early in this weekend's NFL draft.

Meanwhile, in Northeast Baltimore, Morgan State receiver Marc Lester will be watching and waiting. He doesn't have big stats and he doesn't come from a big program, but he does have big dreams.

Lester comes from a small, historically black university that hasn't had a winning season in more than 20 years. Furthermore, a Morgan player hasn't been drafted since 1981, when the Houston Oilers selected wide receiver Michael Holston in the second round.

Still, Lester hopes to break Morgan's 21-year hiatus from the draft.

"My dream, my goal is to be drafted," Lester said. "Being drafted kind of sets you apart from all the rest. It says a whole lot. That's one of my goals. If that doesn't happen, I know that I'll get a shot. I'm trying to be calm, not get too anxious and go with the flow."

Thus far, Lester has worked out for several teams. The Ravens, Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints have shown interest in him, according to Craig Bradford of Gazelle Management Group of Houston, which represents Lester.

"The Ravens are showing the most interest," Bradford said. "They like his height [6 feet 4], ability to get open and catching ability. If he doesn't get drafted, they say he is a high-priority free agent."

Lester said some of his best workouts have been with the Ravens. He worked out for them at Morgan in late March and at the Ravens' facilities in Owings Mills last week.

"Scouts say I look a lot faster in a game situation than in my 40," said Lester, who ran 40 yards in 4.6 seconds for the Ravens. "In a game situation, I can run by somebody, but when you're running on your own, that's kind of hard for me. Even though you've got to get it done, that's always been a struggle with me. I don't have blazing speed, but I have good speed."

Said Chad Alexander, Ravens player personnel assistant: "[Lester] plays faster than his 40 time. He was a playmaker in their league. He's big, runs routes well, comes in and out of breaks well, has long arms. He can [put a] body [on] smaller defensive backs. He had a good workout for us.

"One thing I noticed about him when he came here for the workout is that he is a competitor. All those guys that came [from Morgan State], Ali Culpepper ... we had some other guys that came here from bigger colleges, and they weren't wide-eyed. They showed up early and worked out hard. If [Lester] brings that same competitive fire to that next level, then he's got a shot."

Lester classifies himself as a physical possession receiver, and at 214 pounds, he has NFL receiver size. However, his coaches point out other attributes that set him apart from the average receiver.

"When you watch Marc on film, he catches every ball with his hands," said Otis Covington, former Morgan State receivers coach and current offensive coordinator for Bowie State.

Lester displayed that catching ability throughout his career at Morgan, finishing as the school's all-time leading receiver with 138 catches.

Despite his accomplishments, Lester was surrounded by inconsistency at Morgan. He played under two head coaches, three receivers coaches and with six starting quarterbacks.

"With the coaching and quarterback inconsistencies, I don't think people have seen the true natural ability that I have," Lester said. "I've shown it, but with the situation that we were in, I really couldn't show it every game. I never really had a quarterback that could get me the ball."

If Lester makes it to an NFL camp, having a quality quarterback won't be a problem. His main concern will be the speed adjustment, according to former teammate Anthony Collins.

Collins, who played receiver with Lester at Morgan, survived until the final cut at Saints training camp last summer. He and Lester talk often.

"The main thing [in the NFL] is the speed deferential," Collins said. "You have to make quicker adjustments and learn on the run."

Collins also emphasizes the importance of self-confidence when talking to Lester. He says that when he first went to camp, he didn't feel he belonged.

"I tell Marc to remember that no one out there is better than him or can do anything that he can't do," Collins said. "Marc has all the potential to make it. If he gets a fair shot, he'll be in there."

Said Lester: "With this draft situation, I see all these big-time [Division I-A] receivers going in the first round because they're on TV every Saturday. There's no doubt in my mind that I'm either just as good as or even better than those individuals."

Sun staff writer Brent Jones contributed to this article.

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