Albert Chester II recalls the first taste of Florida A&M football almost like it was yesterday.
He was in his living room when he first draped his shoulder pads over his 10-year-old body. Chester’s glee changed to panic when he noticed that he had an unwanted friend crawling on his shoulder.
“I was so excited to put it on, but when I felt that roach in my pads, I can just remember running around all crazy,” Chester said jokingly.
Eight years later, Chester mirrored that same run for years in a Rattler jersey on his way to 656 rushing yards, but this time without a bug as an incentive.
Now, after four years as the team’s starting quarterback, Chester has chosen to come from behind the center for good.
Emotions filled the north corner of the FAMU Coleman Library as Chester II spoke candidly on the injury and events that prompted his decision to leave the team.
His decision came Tuesday, when he announced his departure from the team because of numerous injuries. Those ailments, coupled with ongoing problems with the coaching staff, aided him in his decision to put down his shoulder pads. The Jacksonville native said injuries have plagued him since his sophomore year in 2005. He was anointed as the team starter at the beginning of that season, but a dislocated shoulder in the season’s first game against Delaware State sidelined him for three games. Senior Josh Driscoll went on to lead the team for the next 5 weeks.
Chester said he decided not to disclose his injury to the coaching staff, but was surprised to find out Head Coach Rubin Carter’s confidence in him was wavering.
“He basically told me to prepare to be a backup,” Chester said ” I had the end of a short leash. In so many words he told me that I was never going to be good enough.”
Numerous attempts were made to contact Carter about the situation however he has only issued a general statement, which was communicated through Sports Information Director, Alvin Hollins. Carter said he would not meet with the media until he has met with Chester.
But during the 2005 Florida Classic, Chester went on to prove his leadership skills when he completed 14 of 19 passes for 164 yards along with 75 rushing yards on 11 carries and earned game MVP honors. Chester started the game, but it was Driscoll, who Carter called on in overtime that sealed the win.
“I definitely took that personal,” Chester said.
“I take the game personally. I take touchdowns, losses anything within the game personal.”
Chester said the slight began a pattern of inconsistencies.
The fifth year senior pointed to this year’s 19th Annual Bank of America Atlanta Football Classic as an example of his confusion. Chester was removed midway through the first half of the Rattlers thrilling18-17 victory over Tennessee State University.
Chester expressed his displeasure to the offensive coordinator, Bob Cole.
“I said just from a mental standpoint, it hurts,” Chester said. ” It was like you did it to me then, and you did it to me again.”
Still Chester said it was his health, not his tumultuous relationship with his coaching staff that led to his departure from the team.
The senior quarterback was diagnosed with entrapped nerve, which can cause numbness, tingling, and weakness in the elbow, forearm, wrist, and hand.
“I’ve been trying to play but it got to the point where the pain is excruciating,” Chester said. “I would lose feeling in my right arm, I couldn’t sleep, it was difficult to eat, even difficult to brush my teeth.”
Chester’s father Albert Chester Sr., a former Rattler quarterback who led FAMU to the Inaugural NCAA Division I-AA national championship in 1978, said he is proud of his son’s decision because “his first priority is to graduate in pharmacy not the NFL.” However, Chester Sr. expressed disappointment with Carter’s leadership and the lack of communication between the coaching staff and its team.
“As a head coach you have to know how powerful you are,” Chester Sr. said. “As a coach you touch the lives of so many kids. If a head coach is not intimately involved in his players lives, especially his quarterback, there is something definitely wrong.”
Chester said he did not inform Carter of the severity of his injuries. However, Chester Sr. mentioned that this poor relationship between the two played a role in the quarterback’s decision not to discuss things with Carter.
“The key to life is communication,” Chester Sr. said. “How can you be the CEO, the head of a team and not know what’s going on with your players? If you don’t know what’s going on with your quarterback you can’t tell me what’s going on with you third string. And as a coach you have to be involved with everyone.”
Chester’s five years as a Rattler have been a rollercoaster ride juggling between two coaches, three presidents, two athletic directors, NCAA violations and maintaining his status as a pharmacy student.
FAMU Athletic Director Nelson Townsend said that this was the first time he and many of the sporting administrators had heard of Chester’s grievances.
“The young man has not approached me or anyone of that matter about his decision,” Townsend said. “This is a very important matter. We are very concerned about our student athletes and their well being.”
Chester said he was compelled to tell the press that he was leaving the team during an impromptu press conference on Tuesday.
“I called a personal press conference,” Chester said. “I wanted to address the issue for myself as far as coaches having my back and speaking up for me. I don’t have that so I had to do it for myself, and do what’s best for me.”
Chester said that despite his decision to lay down his orange and green jersey, the love for his teammates has remained steady.
“I hope it doesn’t jeopardize the team,” Chester said of his decision. “I love those guys and I tried fighting for them. Whether it was going to come now or after football season the journey had to end. My health is going to last years after I hang my jersey up.”
Chester will finish his career as a Rattler with 25 touchdown passes, 3,369 passing yards, and 199 rushing attempts for 656 yards giving him 8 more TD’s under his belt.
Teammate Vernon Wilder, a redshirt junior from Miami, said he noticed the signs of distress in Chester’s attitude and his teammate’s departure was no surprise.
“I really wasn’t shocked, you could kind of tell it was coming,” the 6-feet 240-pound linebacker said. “Its nothing we can do. The team has to move on with or without him. We still have games to win, there is no time for mourning.”
Carter declined to be interviewed but released a statement to the Famuan stating, “We support Albert Chester’s decision during his transition. He will always be a part of the success of FAMU football and the Rattler football family.”
Chester Sr. mentioned that, despite his overall disappointment with the situation, he is thankful for all who contributed to his son’s progression at FAMU.
“I personally want to thank everybody who put their hands on my son at FAMU,” Chester Sr. said. “I believe it takes a village to raise a child and I want to say thanks to Florida A&M collectively for their assistance.”
While his teammates and coaches say they will miss Chester’s presence, it is the former starting QB who will pine over not playing the most.
“It is like a part of me is dead,” Chester said. ” I will never play organized football like that again. No more lights, no more fans, the kids, wristbands and the long socks I used to wear. It’s going to be interesting how I handle that.”