BLADE/JETTA FRASER Enlarge
The quietest day of Treyvon Hester’s thunderous freshman season demanded an explanation.
Statistics from a September game at Central Michigan show little evidence the imposing University of Toledo defensive tackle even participated. No sacks, no tackles. No tangible impact in a 21-point Rockets win.
“We were trying to figure out why it was his least productive game,” said Greg Brabenec, a defensive graduate assistant at the time.
The reason, he surmised, was a video game.
The latest Call of Duty title hit stores earlier in the week. Brabenec discovered Hester sacrificed sleep leading up to the team’s Mid-American Conference opener in favor of hunting down his roommates in the popular shooter series.
“That was like my second homework,” Hester said.
Hester, an all-conference wrecking ball, demands full attention from opposing coaches on Saturdays. His own coaches keep tabs on him the rest of the week. Led by Brabenec, a 24-year-old with the unofficial title of Hester’s life coach, Toledo’s staff has developed a comprehensive approach to shepherding the Pittsburgh native through a series of turmoil. This Wednesday marks the one-year anniversary of the sudden death of Hester’s father, a tragedy that punctuated a draining year Hester spent in football exile at Toledo as an academic gray shirt. Anthony Hester, a former Pittsburgh youth football coach, died at the age of 45 awaiting a heart transplant.
“Like him losing a best friend,” Hester’s mother, Theresa Reynolds, said. “They were great pals. That was a tremendous loss for him. Just devastating.”
Anthony’s death came one day after the three-year anniversary of the passing of his mother. The younger Hester, already emotional reliving memories of his grandmother, said waking up to text messages of his father’s passing made for “the worst day ever.”
“To see a 305-pound man running at you, crying, ready to break the news that this happened, that’s a tough deal,” offensive coordinator Jason Candle said.
The Rockets, in their third week of spring practices, are off Wednesday. Hester plans to spend the day as he normally would, saying his prayers and “being around my coaches, the coaches who helped me get through the tough time.”
He added, “I’m as prepared as I’m going to be.”
Hester negotiated his first year on campus with limited help. Per NCAA rules, grayshirts are not officially members of the team and therefore are not allowed access from tutors assigned to athletes. Hester found his way onto the Dean’s List anyway. Forbidden to train under the jurisdiction of the strength and conditioning staff, Hester arranged to work out on his own. Hester, who didn’t lift weights in high school at Penn Hills, now reps 225 pounds 27 times on the bench press, a number placing him among NFL players at his position.
“He looks like a million bucks,” Brabenec said.
Hester finished his rookie campaign fourth on the team with 7.5 tackles for loss. Of the 12 defensive lineman to earn all-league accolades, 10 were seniors, one a junior. Hester, a third-team selection, was the lone freshman to make the list.
“I like to be the best of the best, so third team is kind of a knock on the shoulder and tells me I got a lot more to work on,” Hester said. “One thing my dad taught me is it doesn’t matter if you’re the biggest, the fastest, or the strongest. Heart is what matters at the end of the day.”
If that listless outing against Central Michigan marked Hester’s low point, a mid-week game two months later served as his finest hour. Hester stampeded Buffalo’s offensive line in a showdown on national TV, making three first-half stops of no gain or negative yardage. The Rockets all but sealed their seventh win by halftime, entering the break up 31-0.
By that point of the season, Hester had decreased his video game intake, not that he had much choice. Brabenec ordered Hester and his roommate, defensive lineman Allen Covington, to surrender to him their favorite games three days prior to each game. Their attempt to give up an old version of Call of Duty didn’t get far.
“We aren’t dumb,” said Brabenec, who recently earned a promotion from graduate assistant to director of football operations. “Some of us coaches still play those games.”
Supposedly, a new installment of Call of Duty is to be released this year. A release date date has not been given, so Brabenec will be looking for indicators.
“I’ll know because he won’t be around the office hanging out as much,” he said. “I’ll know something’s up.”