CLEAR LAKE — Two years ago, Zach Lester looked to be in position to be the quarterback of the future for the Clear Lake football team.
Lester put out solid numbers for the Lions under center and led them to their last postseason appearance, but even he admitted he wasn’t a huge fan of the position.
It was at a basketball game that year, though, where his prep football career changed.
“They were in a press and he was picking off everything and I’m like, ‘You know, that skill set tends to lead me to believe maybe he’d be a pretty good wide receiver,'" said coach Jared DeVries. "So we pitched it to him and obviously he ran with that role. Now he’s one of the best receivers in the state.”
Through two years of hard work, Lester has turned into a leader for Clear Lake, both statistically and as an example of how things should be done. When 10th-ranked Clear Lake kicks off the postseason tonight at home against No. 5 Waukon at 7 p.m., Lester will again be the focal point for everything the Lions do, and everything Waukon is trying to stop.
“He works so hard at everything and he’s just a great teammate, so it’s really easy to lean on those type of guys,” DeVries said.
The switch to receiver last year was one to which Lester had to make adjustments. There was a little bit of a learning curve, but eventually it was a natural fit for one of the best athletes at Clear Lake — he’s also an all-conference basketball and baseball player and was a state placewinner in the 2A high jump last spring.
“It was tough my junior year, but this year I’ve gotten the hang of it so it’s a lot easier,” Lester said.
Right out of the gate in the Lions’ opener against Mason City this season, it was clear the chemistry he already had with sophomore quarterback Jaylen DeVries. The duo has lit up opposing defenses ever since, and Lester has turned into DeVries’ favorite target in a pass-happy offense that includes two other big-play threats in Drew Enke and Nick Danielson.
It’s not a rare sight to see him haul in passes in double coverage or out-jump any defender on a given night. Circus-like catches have kind of become the norm in Clear Lake.
“Jaylen just usually throws it up and I just try and get it,” Lester said. “He just has to give me a chance to get it.”
Coach DeVries said it’s obviously not ideal to be throwing into double coverage, but the receivers and Jaylen have all put in the time to perfect their craft. The rest is just trust knowing they’ll win the 50-50 balls.
Lester is second in Class 2A with 782 yards and eight touchdowns on 42 receptions, which has him well on his way to becoming an all-state receiver. But it’s not all about what Lester adds to the offense — he’s the total package for the Lions.
He was a first-team all-state defensive back last season and has picked up where he left off in that department as he’s picked off four passes and has 30 total tackles.
On special teams, Lester is both the kicker and the punter, and returns most punts and is one option on kickoff return as well.
Tonight against Waukon, the Lions are expecting Lester to be at his best, and they’ll need it with a tough test on their plate.
The Indians, whose only loss came against second-rated Cascade, bring a balanced and explosive offense in to Lions Field.
Abe Schwartz is a dual-threat at quarterback as he’s passed for more than 1,700 yards and 20 touchdowns, and has added 403 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground. The Indians also have a back who eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark with ease in Mitchell Snitker, who is at 1,288 yards and 15 touchdowns.
“Just how explosive they are and how balanced they are on both sides of the ball (stands out), so it’s going to be a good matchup,” DeVries said. “We’ll just have to eliminate penalties, control the clock and time of possession and it will give us a chance to win.”
For the Lions, who lost last week to New Hampton to take second in their district, the home game was a welcome surprise and they’re ready to make the most of it.
“We just have to go in there saying one game at a time and it’ll take care of itself,” Lester said.