Missouri senior defensive tackle Lucas Vincent had slid plates onto the weightlifting bar and banged out dozens of reps hundreds of times before.
There was no reason to suspect July 16, 2012, would be any different until Vincent partially tore his left pectoral muscle, where it connects to a tendon in his shoulder joint, during a weightlifting session.
Like all football players, Vincent has had his shares of bumps and bruises, cuts and scrapes, but he had never dealt with a significant muscle or joint injury.
“This was the only torn anything I’ve ever had,” said Vincent, an Olathe North graduate.
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The recovery process proved arduous, even though he returned to the practice field less than a month after the injury.
The tear wasn’t bad enough to require surgery, though that option initially was discussed, but it wasn’t the physical scarring that took the greatest toll on Vincent.
The muscle tear undoubtedly impacted his performance.
“I didn’t use my left arm the entire 2012 season and, when we played Toledo (last year), I went back and watched the film of that and I still wasn’t fully using my left arm,” Vincent said.
Still, the mental hurdle of regaining trust in a body that failed him for the first time was more difficult to overcome.
“2012 was really disappointing, because he went in with the mindset that summer that he was going to be the starter. Then he had the injury happen,” Vincent’s mother, Genia, said. “He was scared and wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen, but you could just tell he wasn’t 100 percent. He was nowhere near full strength.”
Missouri athletic trainer Pat Ivey eased him back into a workout routine, but Genia said that sometimes Lucas would reach roughly 20 reps and the fear of another injury would wash over him.
“He said his heart would start racing and he’d have to stop,” Genia said.
That prompted Vincent to seek help from a sports psychologist.
“We really talked about confidence,” Vincent said. “Obviously, we have one of the best athletic training staffs in the country. They got me back to where I needed to be, but it was a matter of having confidence in my body and being able to do it.”
Each of Missouri’s players engage in sports psychology sessions a couple of times a year, but Vincent did extra work with Dr. Jim Reardon, who also worked with Dan O’Brien during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and consulted for the NFL’s Jets.
“We encouraged it after we talked to (Missouri head athletic trainer) Rex (Sharp) about it,” Genia said. “It wasn’t necessarily self-confidence in his ability, but worrying about reinjuring that shoulder and his career could be over with. I think he welcomed it.”
Eventually, Vincent broke through that mental barrier.
“When guys are in that situation, you encourage them and stay positive,” Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel said. “He just had to keep working and stay positive, and that’s the reason why he’s playing well now.”
Of course, it took nearly 18 months. Vincent said it wasn’t until last winter when he stopped worrying about his shoulder. He still receives regular treatment, but he works out without fear again.
“I’m 100 percent,” Vincent said. “I don’t even think about it anymore.”
That also prompted a change on the field.
During the spring and summer, Missouri coaches raved about Vincent elevating his game and playing as well as he’s ever played in black and gold.
He has 15 tackles, including three for a loss with a career-high 1 1/2 sacks, through five games, but Vincent isn’t satisfied.
“I do not think I’ve played to my potential yet this season,” Vincent said. “I’m still working on that, and I’m trying to get better every week. I need to not think as much, honestly. … I feel like I did that pretty well at the end of the third quarter and in the fourth quarter of the South Carolina game. I just need to carry on with that.”
Steckel’s assessment is far less critical.
“He wants to be perfect and, in his mind, he’s not doing well,” said Steckel, who see NFL possibilities in Vincent’s future. “But I think Lucas is playing very well for us. Can he get better? Absolutely, but I really think Lucas is playing well, but he’s got to keep pushing himself to reach an even higher level.”