NEW ORLEANS (AP) -Jacob Hester keeps his shoulders low and his legs churning. No stutter steps, crazy cutbacks or hurdling tacklers for him.
It's not flashy, but it has done the job for LSU, all the way to Monday night's BCS national championship game against Ohio State.
Coaches always seem to go out of their way to praise Hester, which he finds a bit embarrassing, but a review of what the versatile senior running back has done on fourth-and-short, or on runs near the goal line, drives home the point.
``He's so physical. He has great vision. He's tough to tackle,'' LSU coach Les Miles said. ``After you start recognizing his abilities you realize he may have been prejudiced against somewhere.''
Not just somebody, somewhere, but a lot of people in a lot of places have questioned Hester's ability.
``Everyone's always told me I wasn't going to make it as a college running back and I wasn't this and that,'' Hester said. ``I'm sure people are going to tell me that I'm not the right kind of running back to play in the NFL. But I like being the guy who nobody believes in. It just gives me inspiration to try to achieve all my goals.''
At 6-feet, 228 pounds, Hester certainly can't count on his size for any advantage. But he has deceptive speed and rarely goes down on the first hit.
One of his finest moments came during LSU's game-winning drive against Florida back in October, when he converted a pair of fourth-and-short runs, then powered into the end zone on third-and-goal with 1:09 left.
Yes, it took him a while to get up after the winning score, but he finished with 106 yards and went on to become one of the most consistent and reliable running backs LSU has ever had.
During the season, Hester had four games when he rushed for over 100 yards, including the Southeastern Conference championship game. He ran for 1,017 yards this season (5 yards per carry), the ninth-best single-season mark in LSU history. He also led the team with 12 touchdowns, 11 on runs.
Ask about his success, especially his ability to convert tough short-yardage plays, and Hester says it stems more from his being a student of the game than any physical gift.
``I really pride myself on doing small things right,'' Hester said. ``Maybe some things that some other guys might let go as far as ball security, and watching film to really find out where the holes are going to be on a certain play, or the tendencies of the defense.
``A lot of people have the physical tools, but you've got to have that mind-set that you're getting the first down no matter what happens. No matter if the play gets blocked wrong or if it breaks down ... you know exactly where you've got to get and you feel a duty to your team to get to that spot.''
Hester didn't come out of nowhere. He played in high school with Southern California quarterback John David Booty at Evangel Christian Academy in Shreveport, and for 1,593 yards and 24 touchdowns as a junior. His senior year, Evangel won a state title.
LSU began playing him as a true freshman, mostly at fullback his first two seasons. Hester also begged for special teams duty, even this season, when he had a more central role as a tailback.
``Here's a guy who's got all kinds of ability who says, 'Let me run down on kickoffs. I'm on the punt team,''' Miles said. ``I would be fortunate in my career if I would always have a guy like that around me.''
Naturally, Hester wants to play in the NFL, even if it's only on special teams.
Growing up as a Saints fan, one of his favorite players was Steve Glean, a reserve safety who's made his career on special teams and might be best known for blocking a punt during the Saints' first game back in the Louisiana Superdome after Hurricane Katrina.
``Gleason's my guy,'' Hester says. ``Me being a special teams guy, I loved him.''
Miles, who spent three seasons as an assistant coach for the Dallas Cowboys from 1998-2000, said NFL teams would be foolish not to find a place for Hester.
``He's a guy that plays every special teams snap. He's a guy that plays third-down running back and certainly if they want to play two-back, he can play fullback. And if they're looking for a big powerful tailback who can catch the football, to me there isn't any question,'' Miles said. ``If he doesn't play in the NFL for years, then it's a different league than I was at.''
If not a different league, it's certainly a different level. Then again, Hester is a different kind of player.

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