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Monday, Oct. 19, 2020

Jacob Hester: Life After Football

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Pro Athlete Turns to Sports Broadcasting

All he had to do was sign his name.

It was that simple.

In 2014, Jacob Hester had been offered a contract by the New Orleans Saints. They wanted him, and he wanted to extend his NFL career to a seventh year – in his home state, no less.

“I’ll be honest,” Hester remembered. “I had more left in the tank than I thought.”

Turns out, however, it really wasn’t that simple.

At the same time, the former Evangel Christian Academy and LSU legend had an opportunity to start his life after football. There was an empty chair on the set of Cox Sports Television’s LSU pre-game and post-game shows. Hester could take a seat if he wanted.

“I had this decision to make,” Hester said. “I called the Saints and let them know I was officially retiring from football and not going to move forward.”

That’s right. An athlete with “more left in the tank” decided not to fill up his bank account.

“The veteran minimum would have probably been three times more money than I’m making now,” Hester said.

But in a sport littered with players who have fumbled away life after their last game, Hester was determined to keep running toward the goal line of success.

“I’ve seen so many players that I played with really struggle with their second career choice,” Hester said. “What do I want to do? It’s really not about the money part of it … It’s about having a purpose – something that drives you every single day. The last thing I wanted to do was sit at home and not have a career in mind, and just exist.”

Fast forward six years, and Hester spends his days preparing for no less than four jobs. In addition to cohosting those CST pre-game and post-game shows, he is: a co-host of "Hangin’ with Hester and Hanny" – a three-hour weekday show on ESPN Radio in Baton Rouge (syndicated in Shreveport and Alexandria), which is seen on CST in close to 20 states; a host on Sirius/XM’s SEC Radio; and a member of LSU’s social media department, churning out content such as breaking down film with LSU players.

“This, for me, right now is kind of utopia,” Hester said during a break between shows. “For me, to be on national radio right now, and to be able to also talk locally about the things that I love, and to have the opportunity to be on the SEC Network here and there, for me, this is it. I don’t know if there’s another job I would jump at. It would have to be something that has not been presented to me, because for me, I don’t know if it can get any better.”

Hester’s rise to fame – in a relatively short amount of time – out west, when the running back still butting heads with defensive linemen. While playing for the then-San Diego Chargers, a radio station was looking for a fill-in host – a player to give his insight.

“The day I did that, I knew this is what I wanted to do,” Hester said. “From that moment on, any time they needed a fillin, any time they needed a co-host, any time anybody needed an interview, any time the media department was looking for somebody to do something, I was, like, 'Hey, I will be the guy to do it,' because I wanted to get as many reps as I possibly could. I knew if I could get those reps in those situations, it would help me later in my career.”

But once Hester did sign his name – on the NFL’s retirement papers – he had to start building that career. Those pre-game and post-game shows were only one day a week for a few months.

That’s when one of Shreveport’s favorite sons found a friend in a local, longtime radio host.

“Tim Fletcher was so good to me,” Hester said. “He was really a mentor of mine and allowed me to come on the show whenever I wanted and get those reps as well.”

“He was pretty comfortable behind the microphone, but was still a little guarded,” said Fletcher, host of “The Tim Fletcher Show.” “I knew as soon as this cat drops the curtain and lets people get to know his personality? There is a lot to like about his potential as a broadcaster.”

A guest appearance here and there eventually turned into Hester’s own daily show in Shreveport. That three-year experience and a growing friendship with Gordy Rush (vice president/ general manager of Guaranty Media, which owns ESPN Radio Baton Rouge) led to another Hester decision.

“I was traveling back and forth for four years for the TV job,” Hester said. “I would do radio in Shreveport on Friday, get in the car and drive down to Baton Rouge. I would do the (TV) show, and I would cover the game, I would do the post-game show, stay in a hotel, wake up on Sunday morning and drive back to Shreveport. I did that every single weekend. I traveled to the away games as well – Oxford, Gainesville, wherever it was. There were a lot of things I was missing because I was always gone … If I was going to keep doing the Cox Sports Television job, making the move down here just made a lot of sense.”

So, in early 2018, the Hester family loaded up and headed south.

Another decision that paid off. Not in NFL money, but in career opportunities.

“I presented the idea of Jacob being a big fish in a small pond,” Rush said. “He could have gone to ESPN or the SEC Network, but we discussed him doing multiple things here in Baton Rouge. He does a great job of juggling multiple balls for us, not to mention a wife and four kids.”

But a funny thing happened on Hester’s way to staying local.

He went national.

“I heard Jacob initially after a friend in Shreveport told me I had to listen to 'Hangin’ with Hester,'" said Michael Mazvinsky, senior director of college sports programming at Sirius/XM. “After listening to the show for about a week, I knew Jacob was the right host for Sirius/XM SEC Radio and our suite of college channels. Jacob’s energy and overall approach to sports talk is quite refreshing.”

Hester, who loves him some Elvis, has a “Burning Love” for LSU – and the feeling is mutual. Thirteen years after helping bring the Tigers their third national championship, #18 is once again the talk of the town.

“Radio is an intimate medium,” Rush said. “Now, more than ever, it’s important that hosts connect themselves on whatever platforms listeners are consuming their media. Jacob has done a great job of engaging his listeners.”

Not bad for a 35-year-old who, as a boy, barely opened his mouth.

“I was the shyest kid in the world growing up,” Hester said. “I wouldn’t talk to anybody who didn’t have the last name 'Hester.'" And now, that “shyest kid in the world” is talking to everyone not named Hester.

What do you know?

It was simple, after all.

ON STANDS NOW!

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