Zach Hester knows he probably won’t win a national championship in college, but he believes he is positioning himself to be successful long after he has left football behind.
Hester said he weighed much than football when he decided to commit to the U.S. Naval Academy earlier this week.
Schools from major conferences have shown interest in the Boyle County tight end-running back-linebacker, and he was seriously considering one of them before deciding on Navy.
But he said none of those schools could match the opportunities he will have at the Annapolis, Md., academy to both succeed on the field and secure his future.
“Of course I have a dream of playing in the NFL; everybody should have that dream to make themselves better. At the same time, I’m realistic and I know football’s not going to last forever. The job security and the opportunity to fulfil dreams I’ve had (since) I was young was just too good to pass up,” Hester said Tuesday.
Hester chose Navy over Arkansas, turning down the chance to play for a Bowl Championship Series school in favor of playing for a successful program at a school that he said will prepare him for the rest of his life.
“It was hard ... but when I pictured myself at Arkansas, I pictured myself having a great time, and then I looked at myself afterward, and I really had a clear-cut future at Navy and not so much at Arkansas. That was kind of the selling point. I realize winning a BCS title isn’t realistic at Navy, but I also like being part of something more and maybe helping take Navy to the next level.”
Boyle coach Larry French said he knows that Hester took his decision seriously.
“He’s thought long and hard about the situation at hand, and I think he thinks this is the best avenue to take, and he’s looking forward to a big challenge,” French said. “I think it’s just a great honor for that young man to receive a scholarship to the Naval Academy.”
Hester, who has been recruited as a linebacker, can’t sign a letter-of-intent for almost six months but said he doesn’t expect to change his mind in the meantime.
“My signing won’t be until February, but my commitment’s pretty strong,” he said.
The son of Boyle assistant coach Jeff Hester, he has played on consecutive championship teams and this year is the Rebels’ top returning tackler with 129 tackles last season. He also rushed for 153 yards and six touchdowns and caught six passes for 104 yards in 2010.
He began his senior year today and begins his final high school football season in nine days, and he said he’s glad to have this monumental decision behind him.
“He’s a real intellingent young man, he’s got a great head on his shoulders and he’s just going to make good decisions throughout his life,” French said.
Hester said he’s also glad that he won’t have to worry about whether the offers will keep coming if he should be injured this fall. Arkansas coaches saw him work out while he was still hampered by a hamstring injury and hadn’t yet offered him a scholarship, saying they wanted to see his first two games first.
“I don’t want to take that kind of risk,” he said. “But Navy is not something that I’m settling for. It’s something I really want to be a part of.”
Hester said he is interested in becoming a pilot — he said he first considered the Air Force Academy when he started sending highlight videos to schools he was interested in, but Air Force was more enamored with other linebackers — and the Navy produces a large percentage of the pilots in the armed forces.
“I’ve always had kind of a dream of being an aviator. ... If I couldn’t fly, then I could be on the ground or on a ship,” he said. “I’ll get a quality education, and I’ll be set up for whenever I come out or if I decide to pursue a career in the Navy.”
He said he visited the academy in June.
“I absolutely loved it,” Hester said. “I really liked the prestige and grandeur of the academy.
“Everybody knows what they’re going to do. There’s a sense there that there’s more than just football. They’re preparing for the rest of their lives and the role they’re going to take in society.”
However, Hester will also be part of a successful football program. The Midshipmen have won at least eight games and played in a bowl in each of the last eight seasons and have won the Commander-In-Chief’s Trophy in seven of those eight years. Coach Ken Niumatalolo is 27-13 in his three seasons in Annapolis.
“It’s Division I football, and it’s serious like that,” Hester said. “They have a nice weight room, and their facilities are actually better than I pictured them being.”
Redshirting won’t be an option for Hester — midshipmen are expected to graduate in four years — so he said he’ll do all he can to be ready to compete for playing time when he arrives next year.
“I’m going to compete from the beginning, and whenever I’m able to make it on the field, I’ll do my best when the time comes,” he said.
He said he looks forward to experiencing the Army-Navy game and the annual game against Notre Dame — next year’s game will be in Dublin, Ireland — and he’s also looking forward to his future as a Naval officer.
“I’d always liked the military growing up. I know it’s not playing cowboys and Indians, I know it’s the real thing, but I like the idea of honors and values and the ability to see the world and experience different things, and that’s something I’ve always wanted to do myself.
“I’m just excited to have this opportunity, and I’ve been really blessed by God and my family to have this opportunity.”