Brad Lester is the founder of the training facility Athletes Elite Performance in Suwanee and Lilburn, but made his name in Gwinnett County as a standout running back at Parkview.
Lester played at Auburn and has spent time in both the NFL and CFL over the past few years. In this installment of "Getting to Know...," staff writer Ben Beitzel talks with Lester about starting his training business, his days at Auburn and Parkview and the difficulties of breaking into the NFL.
BB: Let's start with what you've got going on here (at your facility), what got you started in this?
BL: I've been in the Suwanee location about seven or eight months and what I am trying to do is give athletes the best opportunity to get to the next level. Division I, Division II, Division III or whatever. Or if they just want the best chance to get ready for their high school season. Just whatever is going to help kids in the area. Back when I was growing up, speed and agility training wasn't a big thing, but I did it. I saw the benefits of it and I want to open that opportunity to the kids in Gwinnett County.
BB: The main focus is high school kids?
BL: The main focus is high school and I am starting to lean more toward the youth as well. But mainly high school. My workouts are very intense. I know you can't push the younger kids as hard as you push the older kids. You may see someone in here throwing up, I push them with high intensity. We have our days where it's more plyometrics and speciality. But we have our days where I really see where your mental toughness is.
BB: Obviously, you've done this type of work yourself, when did you get into doing it for other people?
BL: It's funny, I've actually been doing it since I was at Auburn. I had some of the guys out there and we would meet up and work out. It was just something that I've always done and my major was exercise science. I started with a trainer over in Tucker, Curtis Winters at Rock Hard Fitness, and he taught me a lot about the training business and I have always been interested from that point on.
BB: I guess this is a good way to parlay your playing career with something to do when it ends.
BL: Oh, definitely. But I am still pursuing my football career. I have some tryouts coming up in March. That is why I have several trainers that work with me and do things. I am also interning down at Georgia Tech as a strength and conditioning coach down there as well.
BL: I am a busy guy. I am trying to stay busy and just learn as much as I can. I know a lot about the training business, but you can always learn more. Everybody doesn't understand that.
BB: There are a lot of these facilities popping up, have you found that people are receptive to you because of your background in this county, at Auburn and the success you've had?
BL: Most of my training customers are word of mouth. Once I get one person, they tell another person. Just my reputation has brought people through the doors. We are actually in the process of opening up a new location in the Lilburn/Stone Mountain area. We will probably have that location ready by (Feb. 1).BB: You'll put your name up there real big since it's right by Parkview?
BL: That was my total vision. Even though I started here (in Suwanee) I knew eventually I always wanted to go back home to Lilburn, the Stone Mountain area. I grew up in Stone Mountain and I came over to Lilburn to play in high school so it's perfect for me. This will still be my main location, but that location, I expect to be nicer and as big.
BB: You said you did speed and agility work while you were at Parkview. Did you do it on your own or did you seek out a trainer?
BL: My main trainer was Curtis Winters. It was a small gym. We would just work hard. Speed and agility stuff. And my dad would always take me down to Orlando, Florida to work with (NFL trainer) Tom Shaw. I used to work with all the NFL guys and I was one of the only high school guys training with them. He is one of the best speed coaches out there. I learned a lot from him.
BB: That must have given you a big advantage then. It seems like now even the back-up quarterback is doing extra training, but that wasn't the case back then.
BL: Back then nobody really understood. I had people around me saying, 'What are you doing? You don't need that. That's not going to benefit you.' But the next year, I would come out and have eight-, nine- yards per carry or however many yards and just I saw the hard work pay off and what the training did for me. And now everybody else is starting to see it over the past three of four years.
BB: Well, it got you to Auburn, state titles at Parkview, it made you a professional football player, so it worked out.
BL: Exactly. A lot of people don't understand the importance of it.
BB: Do you find that, at least around Lilburn, you are a name people remember from your days at Parkview?BL: It's funny, yes. I didn't think anybody would. It's been seven or eight years, so I didn't think anybody would. It's pretty cool, people still remember. And that is one of the main reasons I was like maybe we should go back to Lilburn and do something there as well. I get a lot of clients that drive 35-40 minutes from that area to come out here. My connection base with all the coaches is pretty high. I think every single coach in Gwinnett County right now was around at some time, was an offensive or defensive coordinator, when I was coming up.
BB: Yeah, most have been around for a while. Maybe (Bob) Sphire at North is new to you...
BL: ...His son comes here. And I have a good relationship with Coach (Billy) Wells over at Lanier, Coach (Jess) Simpson over at Buford is an Auburn grad as well. That helps me out a little bit.
BB: What about Coach (Cecil) Flowe or any of the Parkview guys.
BL: I do, Patrick (Flowe, Cecil's son) worked out with me a couple of times, but he does most of his stuff at school. I get a lot of guys from that school. Kyle Williams, the linebacker there. It's good to see guys like that training and they go off and do well and get recognition.
BB: You still keep an eye on Parview?
BL: Yeah, cause my brother plays there.
BB: That's right.
BL: He's a junior there and I watch because of that.
BB: Do you ask him where his rings are?
BL: (laughs) Right, because he told me when he was going into high school he was going to get four state titles instead of three. And after that first year went by, I was like, 'Where's that state title?'
BB: After your years at Auburn what do you tell people it's like playing at that level, in the SEC?
BL: It's like every year you are competing for a spot. Every year. Kids don't realize, if you are the No. 1, No. 2 player in the nation in whatever class, that next year, they are trying to bring in the No. 1, No. 2, No. 3 player in the nation. I try to tell kids that all the time, it's not like high school. Your spot is not guaranteed every year. You can come in as a freshman or a sophomore and do well, but you can have another kid come in as a freshman or sophomore the next year and play even better, if you are not always up on your game and working hard and mentally prepared, you'll have a tough career.
BB: At Auburn how much did you do away from the team? I assume they work you pretty hard.
BL: All the time. They would have to tell me to, 'I appreciated that hard work, but ease off.' That's why, with a lot of the schools, what I like to do is, if there are a couple of guys from a certain school that want to train, I like to coordinate with their strength coach and see what they are doing. It makes sure I am not in their way and that I am not over training. That is a possibility. They'll do legs at school and they'll come over to (a) facility and work the same body part. That makes no sense to me.
BB: What do you remember the most from your time at Auburn?
BL: Beating Alabama every year except my senior year. That was the most fun part about it. Just the atmosphere of game day. You work so hard during the week and getting to go out there on Saturdays and get to lay it all out in front of 90,000 people, that is a great thing. That is really what I remember about Auburn, just the on-the-field experiences.
BB: You've been a lot of places professionally, where all have you been and played?
BL: When I first came out of school, the first team that brought me to camp was Chicago. After that, I worked out for Houston, but they decided to sign a cornerback instead of a running back. After that, I signed a two-year contract to play in Canada, I played in Edmonton. I sat out last year and am looking to do some tryouts in March.
BB: It can't be easy being one of those guys trying to break in.
BL: It is difficult. It is more of a motivation and staying focused. The motivation is to keep working hard even though you aren't in the league and you see guys playing that you don't think should be playing in front of you (laughs) and it's like, 'Man, this guy made it and I didn't make it?' But you just have to stay motivated and just keep working hard and not get discouraged.
BB: What was Canada like?
BL: Well, for one, you can have 12 people on the field which was very confusing to me. It was fun, but it was confusion. You can have six people in motion at one time, the field is longer, the field is wider. The rules were completely different so it was a little bit of an adjustment and you don't run the ball nearly as much. It was a huge adjustment. I was kind of glad when I got to get back here and started to get ready for some things in the spring.