#18 Jacob Hester
Yeah, I couldn't resist.
If Jacob Hester didn't exist, some PR flak probably would have invented him. He was almost too perfect a story to actually be real. And in some ways, he wasn't real. It's difificult sometimes to separate the truth from the myth. Matt Mauck did not give him the #18 jersey, it just happened to be available, though he did bequeath it to Richard Dickson. He was not a two star recruit who no one wanted, he was a 5A Offensive MVP as a fullback. But he was a three star recruit so the story that LSU's recruiting rank went down when he signed is likely true.
Yes, he was a tenacious player and a dedicated runner. I don't think I can ever remember a runner who ran to the sticks like Hester. Though he did not convert five fourth downs against Florida, he did score the game-winning touchdown. The Legend of Jacob Hester will likely grow as the years go on. But let's try and get to the facts.
Jacob Hester led the LSU in rushing yards for two straight seasons, something that only three players have done in the past twenty years (LaBradon Toefield - who just missed this list - is one, the incomparable Kevin Faulk is the other - and he did it for four seasons). Hester wasn't some walk-on, he was an extremely talented back. He was beloved for his hard-nosed running style, and he established himself as a reliable short yardage back as early as his sophomore year.
He was part of a crowded backfield on the 2006 Sugar Bowl team. He had the role of a short yardage back and catching balls out of the backfield, but he somehow led the team in both rushing yards. Living up to his blue collar reputation, Hester continued to play special teams all the way through to his senior year. In fact, he made 38 tackles on his career of 52 games. He was the kid in class who always volunteered to help the teacher. You had an assignment, Hester would do it.
But Hester's legend is founded on his senior year, and the Florida game in particular. Really, it is the most exciting football game I've ever seen and Hester's numbers don't exactly grab you: 23 carries for 106 yards. But, with Hester, the numbers sort of miss the point. If it was third and 3, he'd get three yards seemingly every time. He had a knack for getting tough yards, and every one of those yards against Florida qualified. He's the kind of player every title winning program needs, the guy who plays with reckless abandon and always seems to make the big play.
He didn't make All-American. He wasn't even first team all-SEC. He wasn't the most talented player and he probably wasn't even the most athletically gifted member of his own backfield. Jacob Hester will have to settle for being a champion. And a legend.