Rattlers without Classic catalyst

By IZZY GOULD, Times Staff Writer
Published November 17, 2007

The young man with the fiery arm, quick legs and a pair of Florida Classic Most Valuable Player honors has quit.

Albert Chester II was arguably the Classic's most electrifying player in recent years. But by early October, the senior quarterback felt his body had been too battered. He envisioned a bleak future where his advancing years promised more challenges, so he chose to give up football.

The decision rattled FAMU 3-7, 2-6 MEAC, which lost five of its next six games to set up, on the surface, what appears to be a lackluster Florida Classic today against Bethune-Cookman (4-6, 2-6).

Both teams have losing records, and beyond playing for annual bragging rights in this rivalry the only fight is not to finish last in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

"The kids are still playing through all the adversity, injuries and everything we've had to overcome," FAMU coach Rubin Carter said. "... Even with the difficult year we've had our players are motivated to go out and to try and end this thing on a positive note. It'll be a knock-down, drag-out fight. That's what it will be."

Chester's absence will certainly be noticed. He played well in many games, but he seemed to elevate his performance in the Classic.

His father by the same name - a FAMU legend for leading the Rattlers to a Division II title in 1978 - had led FAMU back from a 17-point deficit to win the inaugural Classic.

The younger Chester lived up to his roots last season after he fought off an ankle injury - his foot had been in a boot through most of the preceding week - and treated the 71,216 fans at the Citrus Bowl to five touchdowns and 339 passing yards in a 35-21 win over the Wildcats.

And in 2005, Chester helped the Rattlers snap a three-game losing streak to Bethune-Cookman in a thrilling 26-23 overtime victory, leading them back from a 17-point deficit for the first of two MVP performances.

After a 2-2 start this season, Chester was finished with football. He read a prepared statement to the Tallahassee Democrat on Oct. 3 after a practice he did not attend. He detailed the physical ailments that had compounded over time. The final nudge proved to be what doctors diagnosed to be an entrapped nerve, which affected his right arm from elbow to fingertips.

"I've been trying to play, but it got to the point where the pain is excruciating," Chester told the Famuan student newspaper. "I would lose feeling in my right arm, I couldn't sleep, it was difficult to eat, even difficult to brush my teeth."

Chester never told Carter he was leaving and admitted he took issue with some of the decisions by the coaches throughout his career, though he said those problems did not trigger his exit.

For example, the Rattlers opted for quarterback Josh Driscoll to clinch the '05 Classic victory in overtime.

"I definitely took that personal," Chester said. "I take the game personally. I take touchdowns, losses, anything within the game personal."

Chester was a four-year starter who threw for 3,369 yards and 25 touchdowns for his career. He also rushed 199 times for 656 yards and eight touchdowns.

The Rattlers have struggled to find a replacement, bouncing between senior Leon Camel and freshman Eddie Battle. The offense is averaging 322.9 yards per game and 19.7 points.

"Florida A&M University has displayed great character throughout the season," B-CU coach Alvin Wyatt said. "They've had their mishaps, some unfortunate things, and so have we."

Izzy Gould can be reached at izzygould@gmail.com or (727) 580-5315.

FAMU (3-7, 2-6 MEAC) vs. Bethune-Cookman (4-6, 2-6), at Orlando, 3:15

This bitter rivalry could get upstaged by the halftime show and the festivities going on around the Florida Classic. Both teams have struggled and the winner not only gets bragging rights, but can stay out of the MEAC basement. The Rattlers have won the past two meetings including last year's 35-21 victory, but have lost five of their past six games this season in the wake of quarterback Albert Chester's decision to quit. The Wildcats are led by defensive specialist Ronnie McCullough, a former Hillsborough standout who transferred from USF. He leads the nation averaging 15.2 tackles per game.