Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023 | 2 a.m.
UNLV needs a lead running back this season, and incoming transfer Donavyn Lester certainly looks the part.
Listed at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, the junior has cut an imposing figure in the backfield through the first week of training camp. During an 11-on-11 period in Tuesday’s practice, Lester took back-to-back handoffs and broke through the line for gains of 10-plus yards, first running left and then running right.
Lester spent his first four years at William & Mary, but due to a redshirt year and the Covid year in 2020, he still has two seasons of eligibility remaining. In 2021 and 2022 he combined to rush for 1,052 yards and 13 touchdowns while gaining 6.9 yards per carry, which is the kind of production UNLV needs after losing 1,000-yard rusher Aidan Robbins to the transfer portal.
Lester was all smiles after Tuesday’s session, reporting that he’s fitting into the offense and ready to handle a big role.
“It’s been a great first week,” he said.
Lester is at UNLV mostly due to his connection to offensive coordinator Brennan Marion, who was the OC at William & Mary for Lester’s freshman campaign in 2019. UNLV is implementing Marion’s Go-Go Offense, a system that features two running backs in a wide variety of unusual formations.
While much of the playbook is familiar to Lester, he’s still working hard to learn the entirety of the system, as Marion has added a lot in the years since they last teamed up.
“You know, coach Marion is a very creative guy,” Lester said. “Some of the stuff is the same, but a lot of it is very different. He knows how to get his playmakers the ball, so we’re going to see a lot of that this year.”
In camp, Lester and fellow transfer Vincent Davis (Pitt) have accounted for most of the reps with the first-team offense. Davis, a senior, is listed at 5-foot-9, 180 pounds, and he also has some level of experience with Marion’s offense, as Marion was the wide receivers coach at Pitt in 2021.
Like Lester, Davis is a fifth-year player with a productive résumé. In 2020 and 2021 he rushed for a combined 1,225 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Davis has had his moments in camp, too, using his speed to turn the corner on outside runs.
Because the Go-Go is primarily a two-back system, there should be plenty of touches to go around for Lester and Davis and returning senior Courtney Reese and anyone else who wants to join the party.
“This offense is a lot of misdirection, a lot of creativity,” Lester said. “We’re going to make a lot of stuff happen this year.”
While Davis and Reese check in on the smaller, shiftier side, Lester is built for contact. And his numbers suggest he doesn’t waste any time hitting the hole; last year he carried the ball 76 times and only lost three yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Lester wants to provide a physical component to the running game, and he is planning ahead by taking care of his body now.
“What I love about this UNLV coaching staff, they really emphasize what you put into your body,” Lester said. “Drinking water, making sure you pre-hab, post-hab, taking care of your body, get in the ice tub, get in the hot tub, getting treatment. We have a lot of treatment periods where we go see the trainers. One thing I really want to focus on is having that physical resiliency to maintain throughout the entire game.”