Cortney Lester isn’t talkative by nature, but he’s learning to be more vocal on the football field as he takes on a leadership role in the UB secondary entering his senior season.
Lester wasn’t recruited from Miramar, Fla., to play defensive back. He arrived as a wide receiver but made the switch after red-shirting as a freshman and working with the scout team.
As a receiver, Lester found himself matched up against the likes of Josh Thomas, Domonic Cook and Davonte Shannon, all of whom got at least a look from NFL teams. Those encounters gave Lester insight into some finer components of secondary play and clued his coaches in on his competitive capabilities.
“They saw that I could compete at an early stage in my career,” Lester said. “I was 17 years old when I got here, and I was giving seniors who were 22 good looks in practice. They saw I could compete and they said ‘Hey, let’s throw him in the fire.’”
At the time there was depth at wide receiver. Lester wouldn’t be able to contribute right away. But with the departures of Shannon, Thomas and Cook after the 2010 season, an opportunity arose.
In the offseason, Lester moved to cornerback. He was the opening-game starter in his red-shirt freshman season and went on to make 54 tackles and grab two interceptions.
As a junior he produced four interceptions, good for second in the Mid-American Conference. Last year, he tied for the team lead with three picks.
Whether he’s playing receiver or defensive back, Lester approaches a battle for the ball the same way.
“My mantra has never changed from receiver to defensive back: I always want the ball, the ball is mine,” Lester said. “I set the goal every year. I don’t just want to lead the team in interceptions, I want to lead the MAC in interceptions.”
Lester doesn’t model his game after anyone, but he draws inspiration from Patrick Peterson of the Arizona Cardinals and Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks, two corners that are both physical at the line of scrimmage and unafraid to go up and get an interception.
Lester’s been a starter for three full seasons, but the defense may rely on the senior a little more in 2014 as he’s the only returning starter in the secondary.
“I’m not really a vocal guy, but the coaches needed more out of me,” Lester said. “I needed to assert myself on the field. So I’ve been doing that. Anything that will help us win.”
While the other members of the secondary may be new to starting roles, Lester is quick to point out that they all got significant playing time last season. He plans to take on more of a leadership role this year but knows his teammates will be doing much of the same thing.
“The leadership role is there from everybody on the defense, because everybody has experience” Lester said. “We’ve all played in games. It’s not like I have to have a big speech every time I step on the field.”