Roy Lester leaned back in his chair, hands behind his head and legs crossed. "I'm not going to tell you," he said, when asked his age. "I'll tell you, though, I'm not old enough for retirement benefits." A snugly inserted pinch of snuff tightened his amiable grin.
Tall and lean, Lester looks as if he played tight end in college. And he did, at West Virginia during the late 1940s. But to the people in Montgomery County, Lester is not known as a player, but as a coach whose experience spans eight U.S. presidents.
It began in 1952 and peaked in the '60s when he coached a team at Richard Montgomery that included former Baltimore Colts and Washington Redskins linebacker Mike Curtis. It hit a low during three years at the University of Maryland (1969-71), but it took off again at Paint Branch High School (1972-75), where he led the Panthers to a state championship.
Now, in his sixth year at Magruder, Lester is trying to do there what he has done with every high school team he has coached: win a title.
And amid talk of retirement, this may be his last attempt.
"I don't know if I'll be around to coach," said Lester, who is retired from teaching but continues to coach. "I might move. If I happen to retire, that would be when I decide to move. I'll just have to think about it after the season."
said he has a six-month lease on his house. According to Magruder Athletic Director Rick Grimsley, that lease is a good indication this will be Lester's last season.
"I told him he and I would have to sit down and really talk about it after the season," Grimsley said. "It's hard to tell with him what he's going to do. One minute he's talking about coming back and the next he's talking about going to Florida.
"I'd hate to see him quit. He sure knows the game. I think he's the type of person who can really take apart films and pick out certain strengths and weaknesses. He'll study films five or six hours."
Lester's record at Magruder is 36-14. The previous two years, the Colonials finished 9-1, but on the state point system failed to make the playoffs. Lester feels his team this year is "as good a ballclub as we've had at Magruder." The Colonials are 7-0 this season after defeating Wootton, the Montgomery Class AA leader, 14-13, Saturday.
This may be his best team. The Colonials shut out their first five opponents before beating Woodward, 35-14. However, Lester feels the toughest part of Magruder's schedule is still ahead.
If Magruder is going to make it to the playoffs this year, Lester says it will be because of his defense, which is led by safety Vinny Badolato (22 tackles), linebacker Joe Marshall (27), tackle J.J. Thompson (26) and safety Bernard Cohan.
On offense, Magruder is run-oriented. Quarterback Shawn Prather has completed only six of 18 passes for 175 yards; the running game has produced 1,322 yards. Tailback Tony Washington has 507 of that total and has scored seven touchdowns.
The offense revolves around Prather, who became a starter as a sophomore when he came off the bench against Churchill. "He's a good, reliable kid," said Lester. "He's a good athlete. He would be an excellent player on defense but I'm afraid to put him back there."
The big question for Lester is whether his defense can remain consistent. "We've got a pretty good defensive club," he said. "We've always played good defense here, but sometimes we get careless, like last week (against Woodward).
"If we continue to play defense like we are, we'll be all right. I'm not worried about the offense."
If this is, indeed, Lester's final year, a state championship would be a nice way to bow out. Lester, however, said he doesn't "pay attention to it.
"The only reason I'm interested in the state playoffs is that the kids are. I'm not out for the personal glory. As far as I'm concerned, the season ends at the end of the (regular) season."
Also, Lester said, he wouldn't want to anticipate a playoff appearance because "the kids have up-and-down spots.
"You can't tell how kids are going to react. I'm not going to be overly upset if we don't make it. I don't like to lose, but it's up to the kids.
"We've got some good kids and I would hate to see them get beat."