The former Alabama offensive lineman and 2x national champion speaks about his life and NFL dreams.
The 2019 NFL Draft will soon be upon us. A select few players are promised to be top selections, while hundreds of others, many of whom were not invited to the NFL Combine, are just hoping for a chance to prove that they can play in the league.
We recently caught up with former Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Lester Cotton, who shared his story with us as he prepares to chase his NFL dreams.
“I was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama but grew up in East St. Louis, Illinois. I went to high school for two years in East St. Louis then went to Central in Tuscaloosa for my last two years.
I fell in love with football playing with the older guys when I was kid in East St. Louis, even though they used me as a tackling dummy. I started playing organized football when I was eight years old.
I had a buddy named Terry Beckner and we did everything together as kids. He was a defensive lineman at the University of Missouri and he’s in this year’s Draft as well. On the football field, we noticed that scouts were looking at us early on in high school.
Coming from East St. Louis, that felt like our only opportunity to get out. So football became the main focus for us. It was something that we not only wanted to do, but something we needed to do.
When I was a little kid, before we moved to East St. Louis, my mom worked at the University of Alabama and I was a huge fan of the football team. She would always bring me with her to the kitchen where she worked, which was where the football players ate. I was always amazed at how much bigger they were than me and always had this inner feeling that I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be where they were one day.
So when I became one of the top offensive line recruits in the country and Alabama hopped into my recruitment, I just took it and ran with it. Not many people are lucky enough to have a dream like that come true.
I’ve been so fortunate over the last four years to be a part of this program, this culture. We won three SEC titles and two national championships. I didn’t come from a big family, and the thing I love most about coming to Alabama is that I left here with an entire brotherhood.
I’ve gotten to know so many people, from coaches and mentors, to teammates who are now in the NFL to others who transitioned into regular careers. Those bonds mean so much to me because I didn’t have that growing up. Having teammates and a football family that I could go talk to if I needed to, that meant everything to me.
And being in a winning program with the standard of excellence that Alabama has, you get to know a lot about the person fighting alongside you because you’re giving everything of yourself.
Coach Nick Saban taught me that you have to earn everything that’s given to you in life. Nothing is promised. He put a different perspective in my eyes. He told me, “You’re a fantastic player, but even the best players need another plan in life.”
Coming out of high school, all that I had was football. He told me, “You can graduate and that degree will last longer than however long someone might play in the NFL. Football is not going to be here forever.”
When the season was over, I had to do a reality check and look myself in the mirror. I was asking myself, “Could I have played better? Worked harder? What could I have done, should have done, that I didn’t do?”
I put all my mistakes on the table and looked at them with the intent of being better in the days ahead. I’m determined to improve every day, both as a player and as a human being.
Becoming a father when I was in college changed my perspective immensely. I loved football, but my fiance and my son coming into my life changed everything. Now, I have somebody looking up to me, who’s gonna follow in my footsteps. So I want to give him the best image and best blueprint possible.
Right now, NFL teams are calling and I’ve had some workouts with them but everything is up in the air. I’m just taking things day by day, relaxing and enjoying the time that I have with my family.
Whether I get drafted or not, that’s not gonna be the end of me. Somebody’s gonna invite me to training camp and whoever does is going to get a true athlete as an offensive lineman. They’re gonna get somebody who’s coming in to work, coming in to learn, coming in to get better every day as a player and a person.
The next step is going to be a challenge because it’s new, but I’m ready to prove myself. I feel like I’ve been in the shadow of others, now it’s time for me to come out and prove what I can do.
I played against some great players in the SEC, but the best competition I had was in practice every day at Alabama. There were so many talented guys like Reuben Foster, Tim Williams, and all of the incredible defensive players that were there that I got a chance to match up against.
Being a young player and walking into an environment like that, I had to learn a lot and grow up fast. Those guys were there to work! That’s where I got my work ethic from. In Alabama football practices, we go 110 miles per hour and there ain’t no slacking or taking plays off.
When you’re playing against the best defensive players day in and day out, that prepares you to go to work and give your best in everything that you do. Those guys never let up and that taught me to take advantage of every opportunity I get to prove myself.”