Florida Football

Where are they Now: Injury ended Chester's playing career, but life went on

January 11, 2021
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The year was 1998.

Long before leaving early for the NFL or sitting out games or entire seasons via opt-outs became commonplace – on the first snap of the first drive of the game against LSU, Florida defensive tackle Ed Chester suffered a horrific knee injury.

It resulted in him being carted off of the field and eventually brought an end to his playing career.

As a member of the first national championship squad, Chester was a part of not just an unforgettable team but a unique career at Florida. In his time with the Gators, he was a part of two SEC Championships, and a member of UF's first National Championship winning team in 1996.

He started his career on the field but ended it in a hospital bed.

All may have been lost if he hadn’t had an insurance policy that paid him $1 million. Many have speculated as to whether Chester would have been a star in the NFL if he hadn’t suffered a career-ending injury.

In the 20 years since he donned the Orange and Blue, Chester now resides in St. Petersburg, Florida, living a life dedicated to fitness, his family, and fishing. While the injury kept him from the game, he shifted his talents and built a business dedicated to helping others through personal training and his own rehabilitation experience.

He still keeps in contact with several of his teammates looking back smiling at his days in the Swamp. Despite his natural ability to defend the ball, the NFL lifestyle wasn’t for him.

Chester took some time with Inside the Gators to discuss his career with Florida, his last day on the field, his thoughts on the current program, the NFL, how he turned his football abilities into a business, and more.

Take us back to your recruiting process. Coming out of Springstead, what schools besides Florida did you consider and visit, and what was the reason you decided to sign with the Gators?

“I visited Kansas State, Georgia, and the University of Houston and you know I had other schools, but for whatever reason, those were just the ones I visited. But, Florida by far had the best of everything. It was close enough to home, but far enough away where I can actually be an adult. Academics are good and having a hometown friend to be my host didn’t hurt them at all either. Good football team, good academics, and perfect distance from home.”

It has been said that Steve Spurrier had a much different relationship with players on offense, especially the quarterbacks than he did with the players on defense. Looking back, what is your take on that? What was your day-to-day interaction with him like?

“I would say that’s true. I mean, it’s just like the defense coordinators didn’t have as much interaction with the receivers and didn’t have as close of a relationship with them, but that was very true. Coach Spurrier was an offensive genius. But defensively, we had a defensive genius in coach [Bob] Stoops. So, we didn’t have that day-to-day interaction with him, but when we did, I mean yeah, he cracked jokes on us just like he would anybody else. And you know we respected him. He was a good coach.”

Over the years, has your interactions with him changed. What’s it been like since leaving Florida?

“I would actually say it’s probably a little better since I left Florida. Just for the fact that I was a little bit of a, you know I didn’t want to get in trouble back then with our coach on the team. But it was great afterward. I actually stopped by his office just on a whim, and I walked by to say hi. And he was like ‘Hey. C’mon in. Sit down and talk.’ And it was just nice to sit down and chat with him. And since then whenever I see him, it’s nothing but love for him. And you know I think I appreciate him more now that I’m not playing than when I did, and I actually regret not spending more time with him and talking with him more while I played.”

After your first year on campus, Florida hired Bob Stoops. What was it like to play for him?

“It was exciting. It was nice to have a defensive coach that was aggressive. And for someone of my size when I played, I wasn’t big enough to play this game that we played before or play it properly. So, to have him come in and say, ‘Hey. Listen. I want you attacking; running through gaps; flying; having fun; going after it; but also, the demands to do it right. And you know not a perfectionist so to speak, but you’re going to get it right. There are no ifs, ands, or buts. And I want you to do it the way we tell you. And if you do, you’ll be successful.’ So, it was amazing to have him come in and have a whole different vibe and take on defensive plays than what I had my first year.”

Caption: From his Facebook page, a photo from Chester’s playing days

After he moved on to Oklahoma, did you ever think he would return to UF when the Gators made a run at him after Spurrier and Will Muschamp had left?

“I did think we had a shot at him. I wished we did. As I said, I really liked coach Stoops. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen that way. You know it just wasn’t in the cards, wasn’t meant to be. But I did think we had a chance at him.”

You played alongside some notable teammates. Do you have any fun or memorable stories to share about them?

“Let’s see. I’m trying to think of fun and memorable that I can actually tell. Let’s see. Kevin’s [Carter] such a gentle giant. He’s such a nice dude. But there are a couple of games where he would get fired up and get angry. And the guy turns into the Hulk, like you see veins popping out of his neck. And he goes from the gentle giant, who wouldn’t hurt anybody, to oh my gosh this guy could rip this offensive lineman apart. That was one of the most amazing things just to see the transformation in Kevin. Kevin, as I said, a great guy, great man, gentle giant, but when he got fired up that was one of the most explosive, powerful human beings I have ever been around in my life. I’m trying to think of any other stories. As I said, there are some I just can’t tell them. Those guys know. One of my most fond memories is of one of our linebackers, Dwayne Thomas. And you always needed a guy in the locker room to break the tension because you know you’re tired, you’re getting beat up all the time. Dwayne would do imitations of Bruce Lee in the locker room. And he’d do some of the famous poses that Bruce Lee did, make the same faces, and look just like him. And we used to always, “C’mon do Bruce Lee Dwayne! Do Bruce Lee,” and he’d do it. And to this day, I remind him about it every now and then like ‘Hey Bruce Lee,’ and stuff like that. And it would be the true way to lift your spirits when you are just down-and-out and tired. And find a way to pick you up and make you forget about the tough times and enjoy yourself.”

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So, speaking of lifting your spirits, you were part of Florida’s first-ever national championship in football. What was that season like?

“Oh my gosh, it was amazing to see everything come true that you know you’re capable of. At the beginning of the season, you know after coming off that loss from Nebraska, we realized, especially with the addition of Stoops, that we were good enough to win a national championship, and that honestly, we thought the results would be different if we played Nebraska again with the defensive scheme and style that we had. That Nebraska team was amazing, but we also knew that we were very good. And to go through a season and see everything that you thought could happen come true, and then, it just is kind of devastating to have that loss to Florida State and know that you were a better team, like we should not have lost that game at Florida State. And then, you know, to have the pure God’s grace or luck, whatever you want to call it, to be able to face them again and know full well—neutral site we will beat them. And to get on the field, and not be boastful and not say we’ll beat them in a bragging way, but just being honest like we are the best team. We will beat them. And to get out there and actually prove and then you know it almost didn’t even seem real after the game, but during the game, you’re like this is what we thought would happen. We know we’re the best team. This is what we thought would happen. And then to have such a great team to play with, and guys truly get after it, compete every day and, go out there and put your best game on the field and represent for your university like that, it was absolutely amazing.”

What’s your most lasting memory from that season and that championship?

“That’s a good question. I would honestly say, I’m trying to think. There’s a lot. That’s a tough question. Oh geez, I don’t even know how to answer that.”

It doesn’t have to be your favorite, but the one that stands out to you the most.

“One of the things that pops up the most is running out on the field for that national championship game. And the overwhelming power that’s in that stadium of what you feel, and the emotions in that first play fires off. And you will remember running out on that field that first time, and just the absolute electricity going through your body. And lining up and knowing that this is it. This is the moment. You’re going to make history for your university, and you’re going to be the best team in the country. And to take that first snap and that first hit, and to just feel the absolute exhilaration of that moment. That’s one you’ll never forget.”

Caption: Chester's battle scars are clearly visible as he trains a client

So, going back to that life-changing day in October, the first play of the game against LSU, what was going through your mind immediately after the knee injury that would eventually end your football career?

“I’ve said I knew it was pretty bad. I remember asking doc on the field you know, ‘Hey,’ you know ‘Am I done?’ And he said, “Yeah most likely you are.’ And at that point, I guess the best term is you’re kind of numb because you know everything you’ve done up until that point, what you thought you were going to do in the next 5-10 years is gone. And you know you start going through your head what am I going to do next? You know, I guess lucky for me you know running to my parents, my dad’s MO is you know when I’m hurt or something is to try to make me laugh. And that’s what he did. I don’t remember what he said, I just remember laughing. And then start to feel the calm fall over me after that, and understand that life’s going to go on. I’ll be alright. Life is going to change, and you know, God has a different path for me, and just figured it out from there. And then after learning there was a possibility of me losing my leg while I was in the hospital, that immediately changed. Football was no longer important as it was before. You know keeping my leg was what was important. And once they told me that I wasn’t going to have to get my leg amputated, everything else was golden after that.“

Now, you had the foresight to buy an insurance policy, and that was not very commonplace 20 years ago. What made you decide to buy that?

“My defensive line coach threatened to hurt me bad if I did not go get it. He, Coach [Rod] Broadway, saved me on that one because he insisted that I go get it. I didn’t really even know what it was. And as a typical, stupid kid I was dragging my feet, ‘Yeah I’ll get it taken care of.’ And I came back into the meeting room with the d-lineman and he asked, ‘Hey did you get that done?’ And I said, ‘No.’ And in typical father fashion because you know he was basically a father figure for me while I was at UF, you know I had my dad back in Brooksville, but he [Broadway] was my father figure there, he very and in no uncertain terms told me I needed to get that done now. And I went and talked to the necessary guys, hooked up with Keith Lerner, and got it done. It’s all because of coach Broadway.”

If you don’t mind saying, what was the premium, and the payout and cash installments from that insurance policy?

“I do not remember the premium, my parents handled that. I know it wasn’t that much. I remember them saying it’s not that big of a deal. But I honestly don’t know. The payout was a million. And it was one-lump sum…I think it was a year from the injury they sent a doctor out. ‘Everything checks out. You’ll have your check.’ And that was it.”

And what did that money enable you to do?

“I mean it enabled me, and you know still helping me out now, to do a lot of things that I would not have been able to do, you know especially at that age. You know I was able to get a house, where that would not have happened. I’d have to go get a job, and at that time, interning and working at the Boys and Girls Club would not have paid for that house that I had. It allowed me to travel and see some things and do some things; do some things for my parents; do some things for my family members, which I thoroughly enjoyed. And set aside money for retirement. So, it did, and has done, a lot for me, and it was a great safety net to have.”

Now, life is full of hindsight, but how close were you to coming out after your junior season? And what made you decide to return?

“Honestly, I wasn’t close at all. I loved college football. I did not—the pros I heard was a job. And I really loved college football, and I enjoyed my team. I enjoyed my teammates. I mean they’re family. So, it really wasn’t a hard decision for me to come back. And in hindsight, I wouldn’t change a thing. You know, yeah, I got hurt. But I still had—I wouldn’t give up the memories I have for anything. You know it really wasn’t meant to be. I don’t crave that lifestyle of NFL anyways, so coming back to college was the thing to do.”

Back then did you think you know – ‘what if?’ a lot? And, does that fade or get stronger over the years?

“It fades. The biggest thing wasn’t—how do I want to say this? Once again, I did not crave the NFL lifestyle. Yeah, money would have been great, but that lifestyle, I did not crave at all. So, the biggest ‘what ifs,’ for me were because I saw guys on the field, offensive linemen, who I had beaten in college. And, I’m not bragging, but I beat them often. And to see them playing in the NFL, I’m like, well if you can play in the NFL, then what could I have done? What could I have done there? Now, I could have gotten in there and been horrible. You know you never know when you make that transition from one level to the next, but that is in my head. The first few years that was there. But it definitely fades, and I understand that it just wasn’t mean to be. And I can enjoy the game and watch it and cheer on those guys.”

Now you said you didn’t crave the NFL lifestyle. What about it was so unappealing to you specifically?

“So stereotypically, in the NFL, you hear about the guys with all the ladies around. And, you know, them doing the crazy things, and the money; buying all these expensive things, and the competition—that’s not me. I’m a simple dude. My biggest thing with the NFL is I would have done a lot for my family and hopefully a lot for others in the community. But, the fancy cars, the clothes, the different cities, traveling all the time, that wasn’t for me. I don’t think I would have done well. The cutthroat nature of the NFL, I definitely wouldn’t have done well with that. So, the guys that did it and coped with it, great for them. It just wasn’t for me.”

What did you do immediately after football?

“I went back to school to finish up getting my degree. I worked at the Morningside Nature Center and The Boys and Girls Club. Those two experiences were amazing. You know, that was a God sent for me to be involved in those two things.”

What was so amazing about working with those two jobs?

“So more exciting than interesting, I’m an animal lover. I learned a lot about the management and old-school Florida. From the individuals that ran Morningside Nature Center, they taught me a lot about old Florida. Which as a Floridian, that was awesome to learn. And to do some of the things that we did there with the animals and learn about the Native American culture and teaching kids about the animals and the plant life that’s natural to Florida, that was fun. In the Boys and Girls Club, I still have relationships with some of those kids to this day. You know them telling me about having their kids being born, talking to them, and helping some of them, that I was actually able to help some of them while we were there, and they taught me as much as I taught them. And it’s helped me to this day with my own kids, after dealing with that circumstance. So, yeah that was—I learned so much in the years that I worked there.”

What are you up to today?

“So now I’m living in St. Pete, Florida. I’m a personal trainer. I enjoy training people and helping them out physically as well as mentally. Just doing what I can to help my clients out.”

What made you decide to get into that field?

“I was doing pharmaceutical sales in Gainesville. My wife had actually moved down to the St. Pete area for school, and I didn’t want to be apart from her anymore. And pharmaceutical sales, once again, wasn’t a job that really fit with me. I found that out quickly and needed a job down here. My wife actually found a job. And being that I liked being active, and liked working out, it seemed like a natural move, and it actually fits my personality and what I like to do perfectly.”

Did rehabbing from your injury play a part in your decision to get into that field or anything that you learned from rehabbing apply to your physical training?

“Oh, tremendously. Between my rehab for the various injuries for my shoulders, my hip, my knee, my foot, balance, and stability stuff, training that I needed to do to get better as well as just the basic football training, has played a huge role in what I do with my clients. I have several clients that came to me because of my previous injuries and figured that I can understand what they go through, so I’d be the best one to help them out. A lot of trainers can help you out with stuff they haven’t gone through, but it helps to have someone to understand like hey that person isn’t being a crybaby or being weak. They really can’t do that, or they can’t do it yet because I’ve been there. I understand what you’re going through. That has helped me out probably with 50% of the clients I have. My injuries and my past injuries have helped me with them.”

Caption: Ed Chester posing with Deac Story and a fan

So, it’s been over 20 years, what players from Florida do you still have a strong connection with today?

“One of my best friends is Deac Story, who was my roommate all through college. Mike Moten, a fellow defensive lineman, actually lived in the same neighborhood I live in. I contact Dwayne Thomas from time-to-time. Reggie McGrew, coach Broadway, my position coach—a lot of guys we keep up with on Facebook and Messenger. We chat so when we catch up with each other we’re thick as thieves again. But mainly, Deac and Mike are probably the two I talk to the most.”

And how closely do you follow the team nowadays?

“I follow them. Not as you know, as intensely as I have in the past, but I definitely keep up with them during the season, and I have Florida State clients that are always filling me in on if the guys did anything bad. But you know, I keep up with them enough to get a good pulse on what’s going on.”

What are your thoughts and this past season and Dan Mullen?

“I saw a lot of good. Obviously, we had some mistakes that have got to get fixed. But I mean especially offensively, oh my gosh, it was amazing. It was unfortunate that it was a COVID season, so it was a little crazy. I loved what I saw, especially offensively.

“Defensively, we've got a lot of things to fix. I’m not calling anybody out specifically, but as a whole, and if I was playing, I’d say the same thing about myself - they've got to get better. They've got to understand. One thing, I did not like were the times where I saw the guys didn’t know where to go. Too much confusion. And then, there were times of a lack of discipline. The simple things that could have stopped the drive, and then, you make a mental mistake, and it allows the team to continue going. You can’t do that. You’re hurting your team. You've got to take better care of things to protect your team and not be selfish with a mental mistake. So, I would love to see the improvement on the defensive side of the ball, and the guys get more disciplined. And you know I’m not asking you to be the best cover corner or the best rush end or the best d-lineman or linebacker, but I am asking you to know what the heck you are supposed to do and know where you are supposed to be. And fill your role. And I’d like to see that next year.”

Now there is a lot of speculation as to whether Dan Mullen will go to the NFL. Do you think that will happen anytime soon?

“I don’t think so. I mean, I’d give him another 2-3 years maybe before that happens. Obviously, I don’t have a crystal ball to know what happens, but I would hope that he sees that he can build a lot at UF and had a great start. I mean, he hasn’t been there long. He’s had good success.”

What does the immediate future look like for Ed Chester?

“The immediate future for Ed Chester. You know, I see, luckily, a lot of time fishing, playing with my kids and my wife, and having a successful training business. And then hopefully more fishing after that.”

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If you are in the St. Pete area and looking for a personal trainer, you can get in touch with Ed Chester though the Mission Fitness DTSP website

Where are they Now: Injury ended Chester's playing career, but life went on

1,119 Views | 4 Replies | Last: 7 days ago by UFgator52-20
UFgator52-20
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Look at all the scars on his leg. He went thru all of that to play for our Gators.

If you are reading this I want to say thank you.
OrangeandBlue
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Thank you for reaching out to him to tell his story. When McCaffery decided not to play in the bowl game a few years ago because he didn't want to get hurt Ed is the first player I thought of. It's good to see he is doing well after that injury and I love his outlook on life after football.
keithg8r
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Ed Is a great Gator and loved hearing what he is up to. Great article.
UFgator52-20
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I went back in and read it again because I can't help but to be impressed by his outlook. I know Mullen likes to bring former players back to talk to the team, he needs to make sure Chester is one of them this year.
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