In the accounts of those who knew him, Lester Latino was one heck of a football player.

He lettered as a linebacker at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches from 1966-69 and led the team in tackles in both his junior and senior seasons.

His memory lives on locally at Pope John Paul II Catholic High School where for the past 20 years, the Lester Latino Award has been given to the player who best exemplifies hard work, hustle, unselfish play, leadership and exceptional performance on and off the football field.

Will Arata is this year’s winner of the award, selected by the coaching staff.

Arata, a senior, played defensive end, tight end and punter for the Jaguars. He had 32 tackles and 16 assists on defense, and a team-leading six sacks in 2014. He averaged 27.7 yards on 43 punts and was a member of the all-state team in his senior campaign.

Arata lettered for four years in football, as well as soccer. He was a member of the track team. He has a 3.0 grade point average, is an honors student, and scored a 28 on the ACT.

Arata was called “a leader” by coaches and school officials — a key component to earning the Lester Latino Award.

PJP II football coach Daryl Thomas said Arata proved his leadership skills to him while training for the 2014 season.

“There was a lot of running one day, and I mean a lot,” Thomas said. “There was one freshman that was really lagging behind. (Will) went out and it was dead silent. He met the other player and got him through the run. You don’t coach that. That’s just a person doing what he does.”

Thomas also said Arata was the “vocal leader that every team needs.”

“There were a lot of guys that were leaders, but he was able to rile up the team,” Thomas said. “He played it that way on the field and it showed.”

Arata said it’s in his nature to reach out to fellow players.

“I liked to talk to the underclassmen,” he said. “I wish I had someone who had shared some things with me on the field when I was a freshman. It was about how to have a good work ethic, to work out in the gym, to study. I liked to pump them up, to let them know that I cared as much as they cared.”

Arata said winning the Lester Latino Award is special.

“It’s definitely a great feeling to be chosen. I thought we had a lot of great players that could have been chosen.”

Arata, 17, plans to attend LSU and major in physical therapy. He is the son of Bill and Ann Arata.

Andrew Canulette covers recreation and leisure activities for the St. Tammany Advocate. To reach him, email acanulette@charter.net.