Facing a third-and-55 play at their own 20-yard line against Centralia, the Althoff Crusaders certainly weren’t prepared for what happened next.
Neither were the Orphans.
Not only did Althoff senior all-state running back Jaylon Bester light up the Centralia defense for a first down, he didn’t stop running until finally being hauled down at the Orphans’ 7-yard line at the end of a 73-yard explosion.
“When calling the play, I thought that he could pick that up,” Althoff coach Ken Turner said. “It was unbelievable. That’s a special play for a special kid.”
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Plays like that helped Bester earn the votes of metro-east coaches who selected the Miami (Ohio) recruit as the 2016 Belleville News-Democrat Small-School (Class 1A-4A) Football Player of the Year.
“I was able to make the first guy miss, cut across the field and you can see my quarterback (Trey Mosley) out there throwing a block for me and you see Jordan (Goodwin) out there blocking for me as well,” Bester said.
Bester averaged an incredible 13 yards per carry this season for the Crusaders, who finished 11-1 after losing to eventual Class 4A state champion Rochester in the quarterfinals. He had 2,184 yards and 32 touchdowns on 168 carries, adding another 115 yards and one TD on pass receptions.
His 4,080 career rushing yards and 63 touchdowns over four years were the most by an Althoff back since former Althoff and University of Illinois standout Jason Ford piled up 6,415 yards from 2004 to 2007.
He was always a threat to take every carry to the house. Whether it’s blocked well, whether he has just a crease to get through, he was always a threat to take one to the house.
Althoff coach Ken Turner on Jaylon Bester
“He was always a threat to take every carry to the house,” Turner said of Bester, who runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash. “Whether it’s blocked well, whether he has just a crease to get through, he was always a threat to take one to the house. I was privileged to have that kid for four years and I’m definitely going to miss him.”
Bester’s trademark moves helped him slice and dice his way through opposing defenses with acceleration that took him from standing still to blazing past defenders in the blink of an eye.
A four-year starter, Bester’s junior and senior seasons consisted of a 24-2 record with both losses to the eventual state champions. In 2015, Althoff lost 51-7 to Chicago Phillips in the state championship game and in 2016, a 48-47 quarterfinal loss to Rochester preceded that team winning the state title.
“I felt like we had a lot of success up until the last game,” Bester said. “I felt like we could have got it done, unfortunately it didn’t work out that way. When you say you lost, you lost to the state champion so it’s harder because you know that you could have been the ones holding the trophy up in Champaign.”
Turner tried to explain the differences between Bester and other running backs.
“Since I’ve been the head coach he’s easily the best back that I’ve coached,” Turner said. “The kid has a little bit of everything. He’s very explosive, he has great vision and it’s kind of scary how he sees things are set up. He’s actually got power with him, too; he’s not afraid to lower his shoulder, either.”
It never took much of an opening for Bester to find daylight.
“It was one cut and he’s gone,” Turner said. “If he was able to get through clean and untouched he was taking it to the house. A lot of kids have straight-on speed. He’s got straight-on speed and explosiveness, which makes him even faster when he’s running on a football field.”
My favorite part is breaking people’s ankles, making people fall. My second favorite is out-running people, because I know nobody can catch me when I’m in the open field.
Althoff running back Jaylon Bester
Among Bester’s big outings was 285 yards and three touchdowns on only nine carries against Mater Dei and 331 yards and four TDs on just 16 carries against Centralia.
In the Crusaders’ quarterfinal loss to eventual state champion Rochester, Bester did his part by racking up 205 yards and five touchdowns on 21 carries.
“I felt like whoever won between us and Rochester, that was going to be the state champion right there,” Bester said.
Bester’s favorite part of being a running back? Winning — and breaking ankles.
“It’s not yards because I don’t ever look at how many yards I have,” he said. “My favorite part is breaking people’s ankles — making people fall. My second favorite is out-running people, because I know nobody can catch me when I’m in the open field.”
Small-School Coach of the Year
Turner and Wood River coach Gary Herron were voted by their peers as BND Small-School Football Co-Coaches of the Year.
Turner guided Althoff to an 11-1 record as the Crusaders won their first 11 games and were ranked first in the state before losing to eventual state champion Rochester in the Class 4A quarterfinals.
After Wood River posted back-to-back 1-8 seasons, including 1-8 last year in his first year as head coach, Herron helped lead the Oilers to a 6-4 record in 2016. That included the school’s first state playoff appearance in 10 years.