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January 23, 2013

Lester reps hometown at Senior Bowl

MOBILE | If anyone observing Senior Bowl practices this week had any trouble identifying Robert Lester, the number 251 on his University of Alabama helmet was an easy giveaway.

The former UA safety is back in his hometown this week to try to impress NFL coaches and scouts before the NFL Draft, and he hatched the idea to pay tribute to his roots by pulling his five-year jersey number, 37, off his Crimson Tide helmet and adding his area code instead.

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"It was my idea. I went in the locker room and made sure I got the decals. I did it all by myself," Lester said.

Plenty of Lester's friends and family members will be in attendance Saturday at the game. Another Alabama player from Mobile, offensive lineman D.J. Fluker, made the South roster but was unable to practice because of a calf strain. Lester is glad for the chance Fluker is missing.

"I just want to represent where I'm from. I get the chance to play in front of my hometown for the last time. I feel like I'm getting sent off somewhere," Lester said. "I want to show love for the fans in my hometown like they've shown to me in my career."

Lester played at nearby Foley High and was a high school teammate of former Alabama star Julio Jones. He won't be a first-round draft pick like Jones was two years ago, but prospects for subsequent rounds like Lester can help themselves immensely with a strong Senior Bowl showing. Nfldraftscout.com projects Lester as a third- or fourth-round pick.

"Robert's done a fantastic job for us, not only with how he's played the three years he started for us, but the leadership he's provided, the good understanding he has of the system and the scheme," UA coach Nick Saban said. "Robert's a very good athlete, he's got good ball skills, he's a good tackler. Everyone is going to try to evaluate his range, but he made a lot of interceptions and a lot of big plays for us. I think he's definitely got a future in the National Football League."

Lester said he has a keen awareness that NFL scouts are watching not only his play during practices, but other things such as hustle, body language, how he carries himself in interviews and more.

"Every day this week is like an interview. You've got to do the best you can. You go out and show what you're capable of doing. It went pretty good. It's fast out there," Lester said. "There is a lot of talent and a lot of competition. It's a job interview for everybody out there."

Lester has chosen Pat Dye Jr. as his agent, as has former Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson. Johnson, who is one of four Alabama players practicing at the Senior Bowl this week, said Lester is taking on the Senior Bowl challenge with high intensity.

"Throughout the whole year, he's a guy who played a lot. But he couldn't get as much playing time at the beginning of the year because we were beating everybody (badly) and we were out by the third quarter," Johnson said. "I think he feels like he's got more to show."

Reach Chase Goodbread at chase@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0196.

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