Aaron Hester speaks in a certain tone when he’s frustrated. He shakes his head and he sighs a big sigh. He is a cornerback. Sorry, the emotions just pour out, uncontrollably, even if that’s not the intention.
This time, there is no sigh.
“I feel like for the first time in a long time, I’m myself again,” he says, loose, confident, smiling.
New defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin has brought along some swagger from up in Washington, where he coached the DBs for three years for Steve Sarkisian. He has breathed new life into Hester and Sheldon Price, UCLA’s long-time starting cornerback duo.
Most importantly, he’s brought press coverage, utilizing every inch of Price’s 6-3 frame and Hester’s 6-2 build.
“This was our plan from the get-go,” Martin said. “They bought right in. I haven’t seen the other way, so it’s hard for me to say the light has switched on for them. From day one, since we started implementing the defense, these guys have had that natural body language, the attitude you want bump-and-run corners to have.”
In a word, swagger, something that has been sorely missing from the duo for quite a while.
Hampered by the passive style of the previous regime, which often called for the cornerbacks to be 8-10 yards off the ball, Price and Hester felt stifled, unnatural. Worse, they felt…quiet. These are cornerbacks to the purest level, chatty, feisty, fiery. Unable to jam, they were unable to jabber, losing their edge. The swagger, gone.
“The confidence we’re playing with is unreal,” Price said. “You can see it in the both of us. We love pressing, we love being in their face, and with Martin behind us in our ears, ‘That wasn’t good enough; you looked him up, but you messed up your feet,’ it’s great. It’s getting our game right.”
Martin isn’t always behind the defensive backs, chirping about their strengths and weaknesses, challenging them, bringing them to their knees.
He brings it directly into their faces, almost crawling into their facemasks to deliver his message. On a staff full of excitable young energy, Martin might just have the most. And what the players love most, they say, is that he can take it as well as he gives it.
“He’s a coach, but he’s one of us, too,” Price said of Martin, who was an all-conference cornerback at Michigan State. “He’s been there. He’s been on that island. He’s young, he relates to us. We have fun with him, calling him Derek Fisher. We love it. He challenges us, gets in our faces every day. We needed him.”
Hester and Price needed to just have a little fun again, to learn how to stop worrying so they could stop the bombs. They both admit: football hasn’t been much fun the last few years.
“I can’t say it was,” Price said. “Look, we’re dog tired out here, about to fall out, and we love it. They’re pushing us. This is what we want. This is what we need. When Aaron said we’re feeling like ourselves, I truly believe that. This is Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price. How we’re supposed to be.”