There's Only One No. 18

NEW ORLEANS – Lots of players at LSU have worn the No. 18.

But after the 2007 season, no one may ever be able to live up to that number again. Jacob Hester will forever be No. 18 in the hearts of LSU fans.

No doubt the most popular Tiger on this LSU team, Hester has grown to icon-like status in the eyes of LSU fans. His hard-nosed play mixed with grit, determination and a never-say-die attitude has endeared himself to anyone who follows the purple and gold.

Hester, a senior running back from Shreveport, has been a fan favorite ever since he arrived at LSU. Hester played as a true freshman in 2004 after a successful prep career at perennial powerhouse Evangel Christian in Shreveport.

Once Les Miles arrived at LSU in 2005, Hester became a big part of the offense despite LSU's crowded cabin at running back. In 2006, Hester became LSU's primary running back and by his senior season of 2007, he grew into the role of featured back.

With a 120-yard rushing performance in LSU's 21-14 win over Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game, Hester topped the 1,000 yard mark becoming LSU's first 1,000-yard rusher since Justin Vincent ran for 1,001 in 2003.

"That was important to me," Hester said of eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark.

While he will be remembered for his signature year of 2007, it wasn't the number of yards that stick in the minds of LSU fans. Hester's play in the Tigers' 28-24 win over Florida on Oct. 6 created the aura that surrounds this 23-year-old bruiser.

Against the Gators, Hester carried the ball 23 times for 106 yards, but it was the one touchdown he scored that made the difference in the game. Twice before his game-winning touchdown plunge from two yards out with just 1:09 remaining in the game Hester had been handed the ball on fourth down plays. Both times, Hester was not to be denied.

In that game, LSU converted five, fourth down conversions, and finished the game a perfect 5 for 5.

Not bad for a former high school defensive tackle.

"Well, you usually don't hear about nose guards switching to running back, but it was something that I have done my whole life was play running back," Hester said. "But in high school we really needed some defensive linemen."

Hester was a part of the pass-happy dynasty at Evangel Christian, a school that had produced the likes of quarterbacks Josh and John David Booty.

"One game a couple guys got hurt," Hester said. "And my offensive coordinator, who is now my father-in-law, put me in the game at running back. I had 200 yards, and they told the defensive coordinator, I think our best player on offense is playing nose guard.

"So they switched me over and I played everywhere. I like playing different positions. I played receiver my senior year. So I've been all over the field. It's something I enjoy just playing wherever they need me to play."

It is that defensive lineman mentality in the body of a running back that has helped grow Hester's reputation at LSU. While it is obvious among fans who the most popular player on the team truly is, the players are equally as aware.

"Jacob Hester is the most popular guy I know (laughter)," said LSU quarterback Matt Flynn. "Everyone loves him. And I think around Baton Rouge there's been a bigger popularity of Elvis this year, too. I think everyone is starting to listen to Elvis because of No. 18."

And not only is Hester admired for his prowess in the backfield. His teammates admire his character as a team leader, a friend and a husband. Hester married his high school sweetheart Kate Tilly in July after proposing following LSU's 31-26 win over Arkansas in Nov. 2006.

"He really does have a lot of character," said sophomore left tackle Ciron Black. "He's the type of guy you want to be around off the field as well as on the field. I mean, he's married, stuff like that. He's a leader on our team. A lot of young guys look up to him.

"As far as on the field, his actions speak for themselves. I mean, he runs the ball hard. Every single play, hurt, anything, whatever the coach asks him to do, he does it. You have to respect that about him."

Junior center Brett Helms said Hester's style of play is a favorite among the bruisers along LSU's offensive front.

"The guy's a workhorse," Helms said. "And as an offensive lineman, that's the type of guy you like to see. He never takes plays off, gives it his all, has great vision, hardly ever misses cuts. Just his style of play, I think that's what all the offensive line likes to see when he's in there, is the physical play that doesn't run out of bounds. Tries to lower his shoulder, run people over."

Hester is well known for his bruising running style, but while he exacts lots of punishment, he holds onto the football. To his credit, Hester has lost only one fumble in his entire college career. And it was the first carry of his collegiate career in LSU's loss at Georgia in 2004.

"Having him back there, you know, he's such a secure player," Flynn said. "You know nothing bad is going to happen when he's back there. We're always going to get in the right situation."

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