COLUMBIA, Mo. • This was not the way Lucas Vincent wanted to gain national acclaim.
Missouri’s junior defensive tackle punched in a Twitter post July 8, the night before the release of NCAA Football 14, the popular video game.
“I wanna buy the new NCAA game but I also don’t wanna be poor till September... My likeness is on the game why do I have to pay for it?,” he posted on his account, @SamoanTaika96.
Just a playful tweet about a video game, Vincent thought at the time.
Little did Vincent know he touched on one of college sport’s prominent and most controversial stories. For nearly three years, former Nebraska football player Sam Keller and former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon have been embroiled in class-action lawsuits against the NCAA, video game maker Electronic Arts Sports and trademark and licensing firm Collegiate Licensing Company. The suits, since consolidated, object to video games using the likeness of past and current student-athletes without compensation to the players.
Vincent’s post, eventually retweeted more than 160 times, including by a few local and national journalists, put a face and name on the lawsuit’s notion of the exploited college athlete.
Vincent, a social media butterfly by modern standards — he’s tweeted more than 12,000 times — thought he was making a joke. Oops.
“Oh, man. It was a little over the top,” Vincent said Saturday of the uproar his tweet stirred, which included an essay in a subsequent issue of Sports Illustrated by Austin Murphy.
Wrote Murphy: “Thus did Vincent, in 138 characters, distill the unfairness of the status quo: Players sweat and bleed in the arena, but are not paid for their labor.”
Vincent, until this season, a career backup with 14 tackles in 25 games, can still barely believe the reaction he generated.
“I don’t take myself too seriously,” he said. “Nobody else takes me that seriously.”
Vincent said he was unaware of the lawsuit at the time of his tweet. Six current players from four major conference programs later joined the suit as plaintiffs. That’s a roster Vincent doesn’t want to join.
“A lot of people weren’t happy about it,” he said of his tweet. “I’m just here to play football.”
That’s where Vincent hopes to earn some recognition. The 6-foot-2, 295-pounder from Olathe, Kan., is the leading candidate to replace first-team All-Southeastern Conference defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who left Mizzou after his junior year for the NFL draft, becoming the 13th overall pick by the New York Jets.
Missouri returns the bulk of Richardson’s supporting cast along the line — MU also lost defensive end Brad Madison, an undrafted rookie for the Kansas City Chiefs — but the Tigers know there’s only one way to replace Richardson’s production.
No one player can do it alone.
“There’s not an expectation level there other than to play your best,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “That’s what our focus is. You don’t have to be Sheldon. We understand that. That goes for all those guys.”
But especially Vincent, a barrel-chested former state heavyweight wrestling champion. Richardson, a projected rookie starter for the Jets, excelled at penetrating gaps and chasing down plays from behind — his 75 tackles led all major conference interior linemen last season — but his former teammates have faith in Vincent.
“Lucas has got a lot on his shoulders with Sheldon leaving,” defensive end Shane Ray said. “He’s got to fill some big shoes. But we’re just looking for him to step up and play to his ability level, plug up that gap and take on some double teams to free some other guys up.”
“I really don’t (think) any pressure’s on Lucas,” defensive end Kony Ealy added. “He’s just got to go out there and get his job done. Nobody’s asking him to be Superman.”
(Perhaps not, but the junior’s heavily inked chest includes a Superman logo tattoo emblazoned with the initials LV.)
With Ealy and defensive end Michael Sam set to patrol the edges and Matt Hoch back after a promising debut season at tackle — he had 21 tackles over Mizzou’s final five games — the Tigers aren’t sweating Richardson’s departure.
Some have carried on his touch of bravado.
“I feel like we can go into the SEC and kick everybody’s butt next year,” Ealy said.
“I think this D-line is going to be one of the best D-lines in the SEC,” Ray said. “Honestly.”
For that to happen — bold words from a defense that ranked 10th in the SEC last year for yards allowed — Vincent will have to play a crucial role. Maybe then the social media world will take notice, too.