Coach Tim Lester

Coach Tim Lester, center, with Mayor Lockwood, left, and City Manager Steve Krokoff, right.

Former NFL player and Milton coach Tim Lester has died due to COVID-19 complications.

The city of Milton announced Lester’s death on social media Jan. 12. Lester was 52. According to Fellowship Christian School, where Lester worked as a coach and where his children attended, he “passed away unexpectedly earlier (Tuesday) morning due to complications of COVID-19.”

As a former NFL fullback and special teams standout, Lester kept busy in retirement through volunteering, motivational speaking and coaching. While he grew up in South Florida, after his pro football career ended he eventually settled and made his mark in Milton.

“I have known Tim for many years and always thought the world of him,” Mayor Joe Lockwood said. “He was sincere and passionate about helping people and making the world a better place, including here in Milton.”

Lester grew up the middle of seven children in Miami, Florida. A rule follower and hard worker, he was the first son in his family to attend college – Eastern Kentucky University, to be specific, on a football scholarship. He starred as a fullback and tailback for the Colonels, finishing with 3,640 yards rushing and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

The Los Angeles Rams selected Lester in the 10th round of the 1992 NFL Draft – not a traditional spot for those destined for a long career or even a roster spot. Los Angeles is where he met Jerome Bettis; after three years in California, Lester rejoined Bettis with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In their years together, the two became a powerful duo – with Bettis, the primary running back, known as “The Bus” and Lester as the “Bus Driver” for leading the way as his fullback. Lester spent four years in Pittsburgh before capping his career in front of Emmitt Smith, an NFL Hall of Famer like Bettis, in 1999 for the Dallas Cowboys.

Yet Lester was never just about football. He was voted an NFL Unsung Hero in 1996 and 1997 for his extensive, earnest service to young people. And after leaving the professional game, he had more time to make a greater impact.

Lester founded a non-profit organization called the Pigskin Academy to mentor, tutor, train and prepare at-risk athletes for success in all walks of life. He went into the ministry. He worked to feed those in need for Thanksgiving. He helped brighten Christmas for over 5,000 children living in public housing through the “Toys for Tots” program. Closer to home, Tim was a dedicated family man to his children and wife Natalie.

Lester belonged to the Milton Rotary, an organization dedicated to making our community an even better place to live and work. He also was among the hands-on leaders of the Milton Steelers football program, both off-the-field pushing for low-to-no costs for families and on-the-field in coaching young players.

“Tim was an absolutely amazing man,” Milton Parks and Recreation Manager Tom McKlveen said. “He truly cared about positively impacting the kids on and off the field.”

While and even after the Steelers program ended, Lester remained active speaking, leading and in football. He was on to the advisory board of Developmental Football International, at one point coached at Milton High School and became a coach at the Fellowship Christian School. Several of Lester’s children attended that Roswell school.

“As we mourn the passing of this incredible man, we remember the massive impact he made on our community,” Head of School Dr. Kathryn M. Teston said in an email to that school’s community. “…He was dedicated to impacting the lives of athletes and students, encouraging them to live fully for God’s glory alone.”

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