47 years have passed and the 1970 Marshall University continue to inspire me and others. I recall having my first account with the most tragic event in American sports history in April, 1972. I was on a recruiting visit to the Marshall campus. As Reggie Oliver and Roy Tabb escorted me to coach Lengyel’s office, I saw the team picture of the fallen team and coaches that was hanging in Gullickson Hall. I was mesmerized by the picture. I asked Reggie many questions about the players. I was particularly interested in Scottie Lee Reese because we were both undersized hybrid defensive end/linebackers. We were intelligent, very fast, relentless passer rushers, and big hitters in spite of our size. After conversing with Reggie and Roy, I wanted to finish what Scottie started.
When I left Marshall Campus, I didn’t realize that my life would never be the same. I want to thank Jack Lengyel, who was my football coach at Marshall. When coach Lengyel was recruiting me for Marshall, he said, “Lester, a lot of schools want you, but we need you.” As I look back on those years as then an undergraduate, I realize now that I needed Marshall more than Marshall needed me.
The 1970 crash victims continue to inspire me in some, but not all of the following milestones that have occurred over the past 47 years:
Choosing to play with the Young Thundering Herd over the likes of Notre Dame, Nebraska, Iowa State, California, West Virginia, Syracuse, Purdue, Iowa, Colorado, Utah, Ohio State and many other major football playing colleges
Earning starting defensive end position while competing with a torn deltoid muscle in my left shoulder and hepatitis that almost cost me my life
Refusing to miss a practice because the crash victims would have loved to play just one more down. Oftentimes, when my pain intense and weakened body was tired and weary, I ran with my heart
Fighting depression and suicidal tendencies because my mentor, employer, and friend Nick Diniaco told me that every crash victim would love to have the worst day of my life thus giving me the will to live for the crash victims and others
Earning three degrees, thus becoming the first and only sibling in my family to attend and graduate college
Receiving Who’s Who Amongst American Junior College Students
Striving to be the best husband and father of four children that I could be
Committing my life to community service helping at-risk teens, assisting the poor, starting a GED school, coordinating and promoting the Governor of the State of Georgia’s Anti-litter Program
Earning 21 awards from the State of Georgia for Environmental Programs including a First Place Award from the Governor of Georgia for his Anti-litter Campaign
Being recognized for changing the safety culture at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company
Receiving Lockheed Martin Community Service Award and recognition for implementing the Company’s best Safety and Environmental Programs
Holding four United States patents
Serving as special guest on Lockheed Martin Aeronautics podcast
Being enshrined as Marshall University’s Black Alumni 1 of 125 Most Impactful Athletes for all sports during the 20th Century
Receiving Steubenville, Ohio Pathfinder Award for Humanitarian contributions
Sharing Marshall University’s and my personal “Ashes to Glory” story on talk radio from New York to California
Being selected as Marshall University’s Distinguished Alumni for 2016
Becoming a published author, Against All Odds – 4th Down and Forever: How the 1970 Marshall University Plane Crash Inspired Me in spite of the fact that my father couldn’t read and mother had a functioning sixth grade education
Discovering that life is fragile, trying not to complain, and not leaving anything for tomorrow because tomorrow may never come
The Marshall University crash victims have inspired me to live life to its fullest, no matter how I feel, get up, show up and never give up because life isn’t about waiting for a storm to pass, but it’s about learning how to dance in the rain. As a result, I have persevered by dancing and counter punching throughout my life because every crash victim would love to have another second, minute, hour, a year to do what many of us take for granted. LIFE!