For years, Western Michigan senior quarterback Tim Lester struggled to be heard. Normal conversation was no problem, but when it came to calling plays at the line of scrimmage, Lester had to rely on hand signals because a paralyzed vocal cord wouldn't allow him to raise his voice. That didn't stop him from throwing for 4,249 yards and 32 touchdowns his first two seasons as Western Michigan's starting quarterback.
Lester's teammates have had no trouble hearing him at the line since he underwent surgery to repair the faulty vocal cord in 1998. But with Marshall quarterback Chad Pennington and Miami of Ohio running back Travis Prentice getting most of the publicity out of the Mid-American Conference, Lester still is struggling to gain the attention of others, despite being tied with Pennington for the national lead in touchdown passes with 29.
Lester, who has completed 59 percent of his passes for 2,822 yards this season, has his first chance to make a statement on Saturday when his 7-2 Broncos take on Pennington and No. 11 Marshall in Kalamazoo, Mich. His second chance likely will come in the Mid-American championship game, since the Broncos already have clinched the West Division title and the Thundering Herd needs one win in its final two games to clinch the East Division.
The two quarterbacks are neck-and-neck in most NCAA and Mid-American career passing marks. Lester's 10,482 career passing yards rank him 11th nationally and first all-time in the MAC; Pennington is 16th nationally and third in the MAC with 9,687 yards. Pennington is third nationally and first all-time in the conference with 92 career touchdown passes; Lester ranks ninth and second, respectively, with 82 for his career.
Comparisons with Pennington "come with the territory," Lester said. "But we're not on the field at the same time. He's a quarterback a lot like me, a student of the game. It will be fun on the sidelines [Saturday] since I'll be able to watch him live."
Lester's newfound ability to raise his voice has helped him off the field as well, since he wants to be a math teacher and football coach if a professional football career doesn't pan out.
"I had some trouble talking above the class" as a student teacher, Lester said. "After the surgery, I haven't had trouble in class and none on the football field, too."
But sometimes, silence is the best (and only) weapon. Western Michigan played Florida in the Swamp this year, and even though the Broncos lost by 29, Lester threw for 405 yards, the sixth-most passing yards the Gators have given up in a game.
The fans "were the loudest 85,000 I've ever heard," Lester said. "When they got so loud, no one could hear anybody and we just reverted to the old hand signals. It helped us down in Florida."
Wear, Tear Day for Brooks
Alabama-Birmingham's 36-17 win over then-No. 18 East Carolina Saturday was shocking, because it was the Blazers' first win over a ranked opponent. But cornerback Rodregis Brooks's performance--with an assist from his mom--was astounding.
In the second quarter, Brooks was taken off the field on a stretcher with a numb and immobile left arm. Fearing a neck injury, the UAB trainers cut off his jersey for an X-ray. Luckily, UAB's trainers found no damage and cleared Brooks to return to the game.
But there was one small problem: the trainers had cut up Brooks's only uniform. Luckily, Brooks's mother was wearing one of his old jerseys in the stands. Properly clad, Brooks came back and set up a UAB touchdown with a 59-yard punt return in the third quarter. He then capped the win with a 91-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth.
Brooks leads the nation with eight interceptions and is fifth in punt returns.
"Every time [Brooks] touches the ball, something big happens," quarterback Thomas Cox said. "At the beginning it shocked me. It doesn't shock me anymore." . . . Georgia Southern running back Adrian Peterson has rushed for more than 100 yards in 25 straight games, but it was quarterback Greg Hill who saved the Eagles last week against Furman. With the game tied at 38 late in the fourth quarter, Hill rushed for all 65 yards on Georgia Southern's seven-play drive that set up Chris Chambers's game-winning field goal as time expired.
Hill finished with 219 yards rushing, while Peterson added 197 yards and three touchdowns.
Bowers Finds His Groove
Grove City junior running back R.J. Bowers became the first Division III player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season twice last week against Muhlenberg. He finished the season with 2,098 yards rushing after running for 2,283 yards last season. Bowers, 25, spent five years in the Houston Astros' organization. He needs 1,339 rushing yards next season to break Brian Shay's all-division career record of 6,958.
More Than Just a Game
Yale has won seven straight games and is tied for the Ivy League lead with Brown, meaning "The Game," the Bulldogs' annual season-ending contest with Harvard, could have added importance when it is played Nov. 20.
The Bulldogs have not won an Ivy title since 1989 and were 2-8 two seasons ago. Last year, Yale was predicted to finish last in the league by many publications but finished tied for second at 6-4. . . .
Texas can clinch a spot in the conference title game with a win Saturday against Texas Tech. A Texas loss would keep both Texas Tech's and Oklahoma's conference title hopes alive.
The Red Raiders knocked the Longhorns out of title contention last year in a 42-35 win.
Salukis Getting Shredded
Southern Illinois has been involved in the four highest-scoring games in Gateway Conference history, and they all have come in the past four weeks. The Salukis first helped set the record in a 68-27 loss to Western Illinois on Oct. 16. They then helped break that record the next week by losing to Illinois State, 55-48.
On Oct. 30, the Salukis and Southwest Missouri State were two points away from breaking the record again in a 52-49 Southern Illinois win. But last Saturday, Indiana State beat the Salukis, 66-45, to set a new mark.
Southern Illinois is averaging 37.2 points per game to rank 10th in Division I-AA, but is allowing 41.8 points per game to rank 121st (next to last) in scoring defense. . . .
Which leads us to the Negative Pac-10 Note of the Week: Southern Cal has lost five straight games in the same season for the third time in school history and hopes to avoid a school record-tying sixth straight loss Saturday against Washington State.
USC has turned over the ball 11 times in its past three games, yet somehow has a plus-seven turnover margin for the season.