Nothing but the best is good enough. American football player Jacob Hester, now a broadcaster, lived out this motto during his playing career, and why wouldn’t he? He’s an Evertonian, after all.
Hester, now 32, was drafted in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers, and went on to spend a season with the Denver Broncos in 2012-13, but his support of Everton Football Club dates back well before that. In fact, you’d need to wind the clock back past Hester’s 86 yard, 1 touchdown performance in Louisiana State’s national title win over Ohio State in 2008, and past the Tigers’ 2007 SEC Championship, all the way to 2002.
Like many United States-based Toffees, Hester was drawn in by the strong American presence in the squad.
“It seemed like Everton had more Americans in the Premier League than any other team, and that’s what piqued my interest at first.”
The running back was already intrigued by Everton thanks to American Joe Max Moore, but the acquisition of Brian McBride pushed him over the edge.
“McBride went on a hot streak and scored four times in eight games, I believe,” Hester says. “After that, I became a big Tim Cahill fan after he came over from Milwall. What really took my fandom to another level was in 2006, when Tim Howard joined the club. Howard took my passion for Everton to the next level.”
Hester played goalkeeper for his high school, and said he appreciated Howard’s aggressive yet intelligent style of play in net. “There was never a doubt when a ball came into the box that Howard was going to be the first to get to it,” he said.
The running back still wears his camouflage “Howard 24” kit around town.
Of course, as is the case with many of us, it wasn’t just the players that convinced Hester to stick around.
“The supporters of Everton also grew my fandom for the club. Watching the way they cheered on the team from afar was another big reason I wanted to be a supporter of the Toffees,” said Hester. “Once I started to do my research and saw the amazing Everton crest with Prince Rupert's Tower and the meaning of nil satis nisi optimum, I was all in.”
According to Hester, there are many Premier League fans in the NFL, particularly among the kickers and punters, some of whom grew up playing soccer. Most of them root for one of the top six clubs like Manchester United or Chelsea, but that hasn’t stopped Hester from trying to spread the Everton gospel.
“A lot of players would come to me and ask which club to follow if they were just getting into the Premier League, and I would tell them the way and style of Everton and its fans,” he says. “Usually they would become supporters as well.”
Football players - on both sides of the pond - are busy creatures. Practice sessions, gym work, community involvement, travel, and numerous other things can stand in the way of your hobbies. Premier League games typically fall on Saturdays and Sundays - the same days as NCAA football and the NFL.
Hester, though, has been fortunate. LSU plays at Death Valley, an intimidating venue famous for its night games, while NFL players are typically given Saturdays off.
The Shreveport, Louisiana native isn’t afraid to get creative when he needs to, however.
“In my broadcasting career, our show is live, and starts at 11 AM central time,” Hester said.
“So if you came to our LSU Game Day Live set and saw myself and my broadcasting partner Gordy Rush (a massive Tottenham Hotspur fan) on our iPads before we went on air, you would probably think we are breaking down the SEC and college football.”
“The fact is we are on the NBC Sports app watching Premier League soccer,” he reveals.
Unfortunately, Jacob Hester did miss one of the more enjoyable Everton results in recent memory. The day Steven Naismith scored a hat trick against Chelsea, he was working an LSU game in Starkville, Mississippi. The internet in Davis-Wade Stadium wasn’t functional. LSU won the game, but Hester still hasn’t forgiven Mississippi State for their technical problems.
This spring, Hester hopes to make the trek to Goodison Park for the first time, but it won’t be his first Everton match. He’s attended several away and neutral site games.
“Even being at an away match the Everton supporters still blow me away with how loud they are. Not only are they loud, but they're smart soccer fans, too,” said Hester. “There's nothing quite like an English Premier League match. Even if the crowd is only 38,000, you still feel like it's 80,000 plus.”
As a rookie in 2008, Hester’s Chargers traveled to Wembley and took on the New Orleans Saints. It was an eye-opening experience.
“Even though the fans were there to just watch an American football game and weren’t rooting for either team, it was still one of the loudest venues I had ever been in,” Hester tells us.
When he does make it to the Grand Old Lady, Hester will be hoping for a match like Everton’s 2009 FA Cup win over Liverpool, which the Blues won in extra time.
“I will forever and always be a Dan Gosling fan because of that day,” Hester says of the ex-Toffee and current Bournemouth man. “Everton and Liverpool had drawn 1-1 a couple of weeks before in league action, and also played to a 1-1 draw in the first leg of the FA Cup.
“Those games were battles on the pitch, and the rivalry was at another peak in its history. It seemed like neither team was going to break through and then an unlikely hero stepped up and scored in the 118th minute. That's a match that I'll never forget,” he finishes.
In those days, David Moyes was still patrolling the touchline at Everton.
“Moyes, in my opinion, did a hell of a job with the club,” Hester argues. “The Premier League might have a shorter leash for its coaches than even college football and the NFL. That's saying a lot. For him to have 12 seasons is pretty incredible to me.”
Roberto Martinez’s reign didn’t suit Hester’s eye quite as much, but the Louisiana native is encouraged by what he sees under Ronald Koeman.
“I'm a big fan of what Koeman is doing with the club,” the running back says. “He clearly has a vision of what kind of players and what tactics he wants to use on the pitch.”
The contrast between Koeman and Martinez’s tenure is not lost on Hester.
“Koeman’s shown that he's not scared to put all of the weight of the club on his shoulders. He is swinging for the fences with his moves, and I like that.”
Jacob Hester understands that much like in college football, the route to the top of the league is a process.
This season, Everton Football Club are putting themselves in position to make a run at the upper echelon of their sport. Across the pond, the Louisiana State Tigers are ranked 13th in America. The Bayou Bengals also begin their campaign with a type of hopeful uncertainty, and much like Everton, have spent a period of years wandering in the mid-table wilderness.
As an Everton fan and LSU-alum-turned-broadcaster, Jacob Hester knows one thing applies to both teams: nil satis nisi optimum. Nothing but the best is good enough.