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Former Ravens, Morgan State wideout Marc Lester building next wave of receiving talent in Baltimore

Coach Marc Lester trains his players on Aug. 5, 2020.
Coach Marc Lester trains his players on Aug. 5, 2020. (Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

Marc Lester likes to think of himself as a player’s coach. After all, it wasn’t long ago that he himself was racing up and down the football field as a standout wide receiver.

A Harrisburg native, Lester finished his college career in 2001 as Morgan State’s all-time leading receiver with 138 catches for 2,065 yards. He then went on to carve out a role for himself as a wide receiver with the Ravens practice squad and then eventually played in the Canadian Football League.

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Now, with his playing days behind him, he’s focused on training some of the best receivers in the Baltimore area.

“What I’m doing with them is that I’m giving those guys my experience,” Lester said. “I played each position — I played the slot, I played outside. So, I’m just giving these guys my experience from a player’s perspective, not even a coach’s perspective.”

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Making fellow wide receivers better is something that drew Lester to become a trainer. He understands that with his knowledge and skill, he has a duty to pass it down to the next generation.

“I’m giving them the ins and outs of what’s going to happen in every scenario so that they are prepared with how to adjust, how to make plays, how to read defensive coverages, understanding presnap reads,” he said. “[It’s] just giving them everything. When they’re in college, they’re already light years ahead of players in college already.”

Lester has worked with the area’s young receivers for six years. He began his training current Mount Saint Joseph teammates Dont’e Thornton Jr, and Semaj Henson, along with Penn State rising freshman Curtis Jacobs (McDonogh), when they were in the sixth grade. He’s trained two other current Mount St. Joseph wideouts in Tyler Wilkins and Ausar Crawley, St. Frances wideout Ike White, Temple’s Kwesi Evans (St. Frances), Penn’s Niko Rice (John Carroll), and others. He trains players all the way down to the third grade.

The results are tried and true, with Thornton, Crawley, Wilkins and Henson putting up 175 combined catches, 2,892 yards and 38 touchdowns in 2019 for the Gaels. They capped it off with a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title and several college offers.

Thornton has gone from crying through Lester’s workouts to one of the most coveted players in the country. The 6-foot-5 receiver is listed as a four-star prospect and the 51st best player in his class, per 247Sports. In recent months, he’s narrowed his list of over 27 scholarship offers to six schools: Arizona State, Florida State, Notre Dame, Oregon, USC and Virginia.

Mount St. Joseph Gaels receivers Tyler Wilkins, Ausar Crawley, Dont'e Thornton and Calvert Hall Cardinals quarterback Noah Brannock pose Wed., Aug., 5, 2020. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff)
Mount St. Joseph Gaels receivers Tyler Wilkins, Ausar Crawley, Dont'e Thornton and Calvert Hall Cardinals quarterback Noah Brannock pose Wed., Aug., 5, 2020. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff) (Karl Merton Ferron/The Baltimore Sun)

Before all of the accolades, he had to break through his limits as a middle schooler.

“In the beginning, there were times where I would cry working out and would want to give up, but at the same time, I never gave up,” Thornton said. “Even though I might cry — it might be hard, but I still never stopped. That was one of the main things, [Lester] just wouldn’t let you stop.”

Crawley moonlights as an All-MIAA point guard on the basketball team and was initially drawn to the court. He then had a breakout season as a slot receiver with 66 catches for 797 yards and nine touchdowns and received offers from Arizona State and Morgan State. The 5-9 slot man has taken off under the tutelage of the former Raven.

“This is my first year really working on football — my first three years and all throughout my childhood, I focused on basketball,” Crawley said. “This being my first year, I can tell [that] there’s a major difference. Especially when we went back to practice for the first couple of weeks, things were just getting so much more easy and I was able to run more crisp routes, my footwork got a lot better. I’ve definitely seen a major improvement in just about three or four months.”

Wilkins has the size of a Division I receiver, standing at 6-3, 180 pounds. However, he’s been overlooked by Football Bowl Subdivision schools despite his production on a championship team with 36 receptions for 538 yards and seven touchdowns. He received Football Championship Subdivision offers from Merrimack, Sacred Heart and William & Mary, prior to committing to Morgan State on Thursday.

“[I’ve gotten better through] route running, getting my hands together — it helped me a lot working with Coach Lester over there,” Wilkins said. “That mentality that it’s not going to be easy so we’re always working hard and he’s putting us in game situations. It’s not going to be easy because he’s been through all of that and he knows how it’s going to be at the next level and beyond.”

Noah Brannock, a rising sophomore quarterback at Calvert Hall, is usually lined up on the opposite sideline trying to beat the Mount Saint Joseph receivers, but he was champingat the bit to be able to get in extra work with Lester. The young passer has put in work during the offseason with Quarterback Factory’s Chris Baucia and others, trained under new Calvert Hall strength and conditioning coach Bill Ackerman and is getting to pick the brain of a former NFL receiver, along with St. Paul’s quarterback Scott Smith and Mount Saint Joseph’s Billy Atkins.

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Learning how receivers get in and out of breaks and reading coverages is essential for a quarterback to get on the same page with his targets. Working with new receivers could allow Brannock to pass on that knowledge to his own teammates.

“They’re definitely some special guys,” Brannock said of the receivers. “It’s fun watching them when we’re playing against them, but it’s really fun when we come out here and work together so that I can get better. I had a chip on my shoulder and I started right after the Turkey Bowl that Sunday and I’ve been working ever since. I’ve definitely seen it payoff and I’m looking forward to the season so that I can show people what I can do.”

Even though the fall football season in Maryland will be postponed, the Lester Wide Receiver School brand will continue to grow. He sees it as another opportunity “to stay sharp, stay focused and stay on point” before the next chance to play ball.

“The good thing about it is that these guys have been working so long that not having a season is not going to stop them from wanting to train,” Lester said. “This is just giving them the opportunity to stay with me a little bit longer before the season actually starts, if we have a season. Normally around this time, everybody’s breaking off into different camps, 7-on-7 tournaments and getting ready for the season. Some guys kind of dial it back in to get into their school’s training.”

Thornton’s uncle Faschall Grade and Dante will be starting a 7-on-7 travel team, composed of the elite quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, linebackers and defensive backs in the Baltimore area.

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