NORMAN — Lacoltan Bester admits that he wasn't ready for big-time college football when he arrived in Norman around 20 months ago.
The former East Mississippi Community College superstar was expected to immediately contribute in Oklahoma’s then-depleted wide receiver corps, but it didn't pan out for a variety of reasons, some personal and some beyond his control, like the sudden arrival and eligibility of Division I transfers Justin Brown and Jalen Saunders.
“I was out of shape,” Bester said. “I wasn't as ready as I should have been. That put me behind in the playing process. Then this year, I was just getting comfortable in doing what I wanted to do. Now it’s time to go.”
The NFL Draft begins Thursday this week, and very few Oklahoma players are locks for selection. Bester — with only 421 receiving yards and two touchdowns over his pair of seasons as a Sooner — would seemingly be an unlikely pick, but with his high ceiling and the way his OU career ended, it’s not impossible.
Bester said he’s talked to around eight teams, and estimates his chances of being drafted at “70 or 75 percent.”
“There’s a good chance that I should get drafted, but if not, I’ll have to take the free agency route,” Bester said. “I know I’ll have that option.”
The Sooners signed Bester in May 2012 after coach Bob Stoops suspended three veteran receivers indefinitely. At that point, junior-to-be Kenny Stills was the only eligible, returning wideout Oklahoma had with a single career reception in major college football.
Then Saunders transferred from Fresno State — becoming eligible after five games — and Brown joined the Sooners just after fall camp opened, when he transferred from Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
True freshman Sterling Shepard also emerged as a playmaker, leaving very few opportunities for Bester, who freely acknowledges he wasn't ready for that stage yet, anyway, and caught only three passes for 29 yards his junior season.
Bester improved drastically the next offseason and started seven games in 2013, though he still struggled to record eye-catching statistics because Oklahoma lacked a clear offensive identity and a consistently effective quarterback most of the season.
That all changed in the Sugar Bowl, when after a month of preparing, Trevor Knight was magnificent against two-time defending national champion Alabama. Bester caught six passes for 105 yards and a touchdown in the Sooners’ 45-31 upset victory.
After his senior season ended, Bester went to California to work with former Pro Bowl quarterback Jeff Garcia, who said he believes Bester has the skills to make it in the NFL.
“I’m excited for Lacoltan,” Garcia said. “I hope that somebody really looks at what he was able to do in that final game against Alabama, once the quarterback situation got settled there at Oklahoma.
“You go onto a big stage like that against a great defensive football team, and there’s no reason that couldn't have been happening more often during the season. It’s unfortunate that it didn't, but hey, we can’t look back now. Gotta move forward and make the most of it.”
Bester played on most of the Sooners’ special teams units over the past two seasons, and said he’s willing to do that — or just about anything else — to prove that he’s worthy of a coveted NFL roster spot.
“Our coaches always told us, ‘Sometimes you’re not gonna be that big, main guy, so you have to start somewhere,’” Bester said. “I wouldn't mind starting on special teams and working my way to the top.”