COLUMBIA — Lucas Vincent was frustrated and angry, two emotions he’s dealt with plenty over the last nine months or so. He needed to vent, so like so many other people his age, he took to Twitter.
“I can’t afford to have another day like today,” Vincent typed. “THIS IS MY YEAR DAMN IT.”
This happened shortly after Missouri’s first spring football scrimmage Saturday. Vincent, a junior defensive tackle from Olathe North, remained atop the depth chart, but his performance fell short of his own expectations, which have grown after a disappointing 2012 season in which he endured a painful chest injury and lost his starting job.
“I wasn’t making enough plays, so I wasn’t happy with myself,” Vincent said. “I set myself at a really high standard, and if I don’t go out and achieve that standard, I’m not going to be satisfied with myself.”
The fact Vincent, 6 feet 2 and 295 pounds, expects so much is a good thing for Missouri, which needs to replace standout defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, a projected first-round NFL Draft pick.
“I have a high expectation level for him — I want him to think of overachieving,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said of Vincent. “That’s kind of my push with him. He’s got a lot more in him than what we’re getting, but we’re seeing a lot more now, and that’s good.”
Particularly after last season. Vincent entered spring practice as the starter, but sophomore Matt Hoch flew past him on the depth chart in the summer. In July, Vincent suffered a torn pectoral muscle while bench pressing.
“It just felt like a knife with an electric current cut me from under my armpit all the way to the top of my shoulder,” Vincent said of the injury. “I could tell how bad it was, the way (trainer) Rex (Sharp) was looking.”
Vincent healed in time to play in 12 games, but he only made three tackles in limited action behind the gifted Richardson and ever-improving Hoch, who finished with 36 tackles and two sacks.
“I’m really glad (about) the way Matt played,” Vincent said. “He came into his own. In the same way, it was frustrating for me … I felt like it was my turn. But it was Matt’s.”
Hoch is expected to start again at one tackle spot. But Vincent has done everything he can to make sure nothing will derail him in a competition with talented redshirt freshman Harold Brantley for Richardson’s spot. Vincent’s bench press is around 440 pounds and rising — he could lift 500 pounds before his injury — and he is also working on his hand strength and placement.
“I’ve got (guys) at my heels, so I’ve just got to keep going,” Vincent said. “Harold is a great athlete — he’s going to be good here. Marvin (Foster) is a senior, it’s his last year so of course he’s motivated. So I’ve got to set myself apart from them.”
Pinkel has repeatedly spoken highly of Brantley, an athletic 6-3, 292-pounder from Hershey, Pa., who says he played running back, defensive line and even returned kicks at around 275 pounds in high school.
“I don’t think the surprise came until they saw me running full-speed,” Brantley said of his high school opponents. “They were like ‘Yeah, they’ll put a big guy back there to break a few tackles.’ But in the open field, I’ve got a little boost.”
Brantley said he’s been begging Missouri’s coaches for a chance to play fullback — “I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said with a laugh — but is serious about overtaking Vincent for the starting position at defensive tackle.
“He’s definitely a big strong guy,” Brantley said of Vincent. “And people don’t know it, but he’s pretty fast, too. It won’t be easy … we’re both fighting for the No. 1 spot, and that’s going to make each of us better.”
Both players are clearly embracing the challenge.
“I want to be talked about the same way they talk about Sheldon,” Vincent said. “This is my time.”
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