Missouri defensive tackle Lucas Vincent played in 25 games as a redshirt freshman and sophomore, but his impact was minimal.
Vincent, an Olathe North graduate, totaled 14 tackles, including two for a loss, during those first two seasons.
Things changed last year.
Vincent, who started nine of the Tigers’ 14 games, finished with 34 tackles and five tackles for a loss, which was tied for the most among the team’s interior defensive linemen.
Still, Vincent envisions bigger things during his final season in black and gold. His goals are to be an All-SEC and All-American performer in 2014.
During training camp’s first scrimmage last week, Vincent might have been the best player on the field — penetrating to blow up plays behind the line of scrimmage, bursting down the line and making plays going toward the boundaries.
Vincent was a beast.
“He’s playing at a level he’s never played at,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said of Vincent. “We’ve seen that before. We’ve seen Michael Sam come in and play at a different level. Justin Britt as a senior is all of a sudden first-team All-SEC. It’s nice to see that. I could probably throw a handful of other guys out, too, that are doing the same thing.”
Physically, Vincent dropped roughly 15 pounds. He expects to play in the 290- to 295-pound range this season.
“I’m lighter, I can move, I can stay out there more plays and I can run to the ball better,” Vincent said.
It’s also allowed Vincent to be more relentless.
“The big thing for him is that he’s in shape and, when he’s out there, he makes plays,” quarterback Maty Mauk said. “Now, when he makes a play then, boom, he’s right back on the line and can make another one.”
Still, it’s not the physical gains Vincent is most excited about.
“I feel like I’ve always had the physical tools, but the last couple seasons I don’t know that I was mentally prepared,” Vincent said. “My mental game now is completely different than it has been. My mentality is, ‘I’m going to make the play. I have to make the play.’”
He credits Pat Ivey, the Tigers’ associate athletic director for athletic performance, for completely changing his mindset.
“Every Monday night, we have our mental-conditioning classes with coach Ivey,” Vincent said. “This year, I really took it to heart, really applying it to stuff. Yeah, football is physical, but it’s more mental than people know.”
Vincent hopes to put everything together for a monster season, and Missouri is eager for that, too.
“He’s reached a different level of mental toughness that has allowed him to really work through anything that happens on the field,” defensive coordinator Dave Steckel said. “He’s running to the ball more. He’s always been a good football player, but now he’s taking the next step.”