Auburn, Ala.--It wasn't the three touchdown, 100-yard day that junior running back Brad Lester was hoping for, but two touchdowns and 77 yards on 13 carries was good enough to almost make up for lost time on Saturday against the Vanderbilt Commodores.
Out since last season's Alabama game because of an academic suspension, Lester came back and made his impact felt right away with an eight yard run on his first carry in the first quarter. After that it was all vintage Brad Lester as he slashed and dashed his way through the Vanderbilt defense to help the Auburn offense pound out 239 yards on the ground in a 35-7 victory.
"I kind of had an idea," Lester says. "He told me I wasn't going to play for a while but I kind of had an idea he was going to play me a lot earlier than he said. It felt good. They kind of set me up with a nice play and froze the defense. It set me up to get a good run."
Forced to sit and watch his teammates struggle to open the season with losses to South Florida and Mississippi State, Lester says that not knowing his fate was tough but his teammates and coaches were there to help him along and keep him involved and focused on coming back strong.
"It has been real rough," Lester says. "The thing that has helped me out is Coach (Eddie) Gran and Ben (Benjamin Tate) and Mario (Mario Fannin) and Carl (Carl Stewart), I was around them almost all the time except for when I went home. Just being around those guys made me actually feel like I was playing in the game each week up until Saturday. They gave me a lot of support as well as the coaching staff and the whole team."
Auburn's version of Mr. Touchdown, Lester came into Saturday's game with 14 career touchdowns and added to that total with two more against the Commodores. It didn't happen right away though as Lester had two tries from the six-yard line in the second quarter and only managed four yards before Brandon Cox hit Rodgeriqus Smith for the score. Lester says Gran got on him a little, but he knew his time would come on this day.
"It felt real good, especially down there on the goal line," Lester says. "The first time we were down there he (Gran) was like ‘what, you forgot how to get in there?'. I told him just to give me a little bit and I'll get in there."
A competitor that has been a big part of Auburn's offense since his redshirt freshman season, Lester says that instead of sulking he spent his time away from the game field working hard to make sure he was in top form when he returned. Saturday showed it was time well spent although Lester says the time away made it tough for game day to ever get here.
"I was anxious all day and all last night," Lester says. "Me and Kodi (Kodi Burns) are roommates and I didn't sleep all last night. I think I was up listening to music and watching TV all night. I was real excited to get out there today."
Lester's 77 yards was good enough for second on Auburn's individual totals as Tate led the way with 96 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries. Fannin added 54 yards on 11 carries as Auburn averaged 6.1 yards per carry on the day. Lester says that each member of the trio brings something to the table and together he likes what they can do on the field.
"I like the rotation," Lester says. "We've got three good running backs. I don't think there is a running back group that has three running backs that can run like that. We're comfortable with the rotation and whoever coach wants to give the ball to he'll give the ball to."
Back and running hard, Lester says he's hoping to continue the recent trend of good play by Auburn's offense heading into a tough back-to-back road trip to Arkansas and LSU. Watching two losses from the sidelines and not having the opportunity to do anything about it, Lester says he sees some good days ahead for the Tigers in 2007.
"It was real tough, especially hearing a lot of people talking and telling me I need to hurry up and get back on the field so we can start scoring" Lester says. "I just feel like it took time for the offense to gel and we look good now."