Kary Vincent Jr. still calls his father weekly.
It’s been nearly two months since his father’s birthday, Sept. 19 — the day Kary Vincent Sr. was first able to speak after emerging from a double-pneumonia-induced coma that he nearly didn’t survive.
The father and son talk about Kary’s recent success as a starting defensive back at LSU; how the 5-foot-10, 181-pound sophomore stepped into the national spotlight with a sack and a one-handed interception in the Tigers’ 24-17 win at Arkansas on Saturday; how he’ll rotate from nickel safety to cornerback against Rice to fill in for injuries — all of it hovering safely above the contents of that first phone call two months ago, when Vincent Sr. told his son everything was going to be all right.
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The LSU Tigers had already entered the Arkansas game without starting free safety John Battle, who was dressed out but un…
“I told him, ‘You never know: Always just love on your family, man,’ ” said Vincent Sr., 49, who was his son’s defensive backs coach at Memorial High in Port Arthur, Texas. “ ‘Family is everything. Always be there.’ ”
On the weekend of Sept. 2, that’s exactly what the Vincent family intended to do.
Vincent Sr., his wife, Angela, and his youngest son, Kyler, 13, drove up to Arlington, Texas, the night before LSU’s season opener against Miami at AT&T Stadium.
They checked into a hotel. Ordered a pizza. By midnight, the family had gone to bed.
Vincent Sr. said he woke up at 3 a.m. fighting for breath, as if “somebody put their hand on my mouth and somebody was sitting on my chest.”
He woke his wife: Babe, call 911. This is different.
Seventeen days later, Vincent Sr. regained consciousness in an Arlington intensive care unit, strapped to the specially made rotational bed that saved his life. The bed was the doctors’ last resort to boost his oxygen level back up, Vincent Sr. said. He had spent two days rotating while his blood shifted throughout his body.
When Vincent Sr. first opened his eyes, he said, no one was in the room. Then a nurse came in, followed by a doctor, who shined a small flashlight in Vincent Sr.’s eyes.
“Why are you putting those lights in my eyes?” he remembers thinking, with a laugh. “And why am I tied to this bed?”
Soon enough, the explanation came: Vincent Sr. had been treated for pneumonia earlier that summer, when he had become dehydrated during Memorial High’s preseason practice. His lungs had never fully recovered, and the sickness struck even harder that night in Arlington.
He had missed two of Memorial’s games, and deeper still, two of his son’s games — including LSU's 22-21 victory at Auburn Sept. 15 on a game-winning field goal, when Kary rushed the field, mouth gaping, and excitedly shoved kicker Cole Tracy into a dogpile.
Vincent Sr. spoke with LSU defensive backs coach Corey Raymond, who said the coaching staff had offered to bring his son to the hospital following the Miami game, but Kary didn’t want to come.
“It was tough on him,” Vincent Sr. said.
Vincent Sr. is still building up his core muscles in a rehab center near Port Arthur, and he doesn’t expect to return to work or see Kary until after football season is over.
The phone calls still come. They continue the bond that began shortly after Vincent Sr.’s brother, Abram Ford, was shot to death on the streets of Port Arthur in 2007.
Kary Jr. was living with his mother, Montrelle, in the Houston suburb of Alief at the time, and Vincent Sr. requested that his son come live with him.
“I felt like there was no way I could lose another family member,” Vincent Sr. said. “With me being an educator in the Port Arthur school system, I felt like it would be the best thing to do. Show him what he needs to be successful in life.”
'This is not the place to be'
To understand Vincent Sr.’s mission for his son, you must also understand Port Arthur, the southernmost corner of “The Golden Triangle” — a triumvirate of oil-driven cities along the coastline of Southeast Texas that sprung up after the Spindletop oil strike in Beaumont in 1901.
In the century since, Port Arthur has undergone economic and racial strife. A U.S. District Judge denied the city’s plans for expansion in 1981, ruling that the plan was “fatally infected” with the intent to discriminate against voters based on race.
Port Arthur Independent School District was not officially recognized as desegregated by the U.S. Department of Justice until 2007 — five years after Memorial High was founded through the consolidation of three former schools: Thomas Jefferson (predominantly white), Lincoln (predominantly black), and Stephen F. Austin (located in a rural area).
Today, an estimated 30 percent of Port Arthur’s population (55,498) lives below the poverty line.
“If you’re not a teacher or coach, working for the penitentiary system or refinery, there’s nothing else to do for you in Port Arthur,” said Vincent Sr., who graduated from Thomas Jefferson in 1987. “I was fortunate enough to move to Mid-County, between Port Arthur and Beaumont, where the newer homes are on the golf course. That’s where Kary grew up.
“But where my brother was murdered? Dilapidated buildings. There’s not even a grocery store. Not even a cleaners. You have to go all the way to the east side to go to the grocery store. Once you get into Port Arthur, this is not the place to be economically.”
Vincent Sr. began coaching in Port Arthur after a six-year run in pro football. The former Texas A&M cornerback was a sixth-round draft selection in 1992 by the New Orleans Saints, and he spent two seasons on the practice squad before moving on to two-year stops in both the Canadian and Arena football leagues.
It’s a path several young men have taken from the talent-rich community.
Jonathan and Jordan Babineaux, both Lincoln High graduates, each played in Super Bowls, following a school legacy that includes ex-Redskins running back Joe Washington and ex-49ers linebacker Bobby Leopold.
Elandon Roberts, a linebacker with the New England Patriots, is a Memorial graduate, following a path put forth by other pro players like Danny Gorrer, Kevin Everett and former All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles.
Jimmy Johnson, the former Miami and Dallas Cowboys coach, is a Thomas Jefferson grad.
Just down the road, Beaumont once called itself the Pro Football Capital of the World; in the early 1970s, no city had more players in the NFL per capita. Bum Phillips, Wade Phillips and a host of others made their marks nearby.
Charles, a Memorial graduate, has run a free youth football camp in the city since 2009, which Kary attended after moving in with his father.
“The young kids always had people to look up to,” said Kenny Harrison, Memorial’s former head football coach, who grew up with Vincent Sr. They coached together from 1998-2017.
Harrison knew of Vincent Sr.’s desire to mentor his son, and once Kary reached the ninth grade, Harrison made Vincent Sr. the ninth grade head football coach. And as Kary advanced grades, Harrison steadily promoted Vincent Sr.
“I think that’s huge for a father; that’s a dream come true,” said Harrison, now the head coach at Summer Creek (Texas) High. “I think it’s good for a coach to be around his kids.”
Kary spent much of his time with his father, playing video games, watching football, studying film and listening to his father’s lessons on the world.
You could tell that the maturity was rubbing off by the way Kary carried himself, Harrison said. Here was a young teenager speaking with the command, clarity and confidence of a man twice his age.
Perhaps the most influential lesson of all surrounded Vincent Sr.’s favorite player of all time: Deion Sanders.
Vincent Sr. told his son to notice the distinction between the Hall of Famer’s on-field and off-the field personas. Off the field, he was Deion Sanders; on the field, he was the flashy, high-stepping “Prime Time.”
“The lesson is: you can’t be the same person that you are off the field,” Vincent Sr. said. “When you get between those lines, you have to turn into a monster.”
So began the lesson of the alter ego.
“Whatever it is, your alter ego, you have to play the part,” Vincent Sr. said. “Don’t go out there and try and be something you’re not."
A highlight video still comes up in Port Arthur circles — the play when “K-Cinco” arrived.
Memorial trailed rival La Porte 31-24 late in a Week 8 matchup in 2015. Backed up on the Memorial 10-yard line, Harrison called a run play to running back Kam Martin, who is now a senior at Auburn.
Martin, a member of Memorial’s state finalist 4x100 meter relay team, burst between the tackles and into the open field. Forty yards in, Martin reached La Porte’s defensive safeties.
“Next thing you know, Kary comes out of nowhere and he is flying,” Harrison said. “It’s like, ‘Damn!’ ”
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Kary zoomed past Martin with ease, shoved one La Porte safety to the ground and pushed another out of bounds, paving a path for what Memorial fans will forever believe was a Martin touchdown.
Martin was caught from behind and called down at the 1; but Kary’s effort transcended any official outcome.
“That play right there just went down in Port Arthur history,” Martin said.
“That video right there circulated on social media,” Harrison said. “That was the initial thing.”
Less than a week later, according to 247Sports, SMU offered Kary a scholarship. Baylor offered the following day. By the end of Kary’s junior season — when he recorded five interceptions and returned two kicks for touchdowns — he had seven Division I scholarship offers.
And what was Kary calling himself? His new alter ego: K-Cinco — made up from his first initial and his No. 5 jersey.
“When you’re a special athlete, especially when you can back it up?” Harrison said. “He could call himself whatever he could call himself.”
K-Cinco blazed into the offseason, winning the 2016 Class 6A state championship in the 200 meters with a time of 21.09 seconds and helping Memorial’s 4x100 relay team place fourth in the state.
That’s when the bulk of the major offers rolled in, Harrison said, including LSU, to whom Kary committed in July 2016.
By then, K-Cinco was tormenting Texas high school football 7-on-7 tournaments.
“We’d be talking to each other throughout the game,” recalled Rice wide receiver Chris Boudreaux, who played against Kary while a quarterback at Beaumont’s Central High. “He’d tell me stuff like, ‘You better not throw this way, 5!’ Just like that, ‘Don’t throw it this way, 5! I’ma pick it!’ ”
Several times, K-Cinco would pick it. He recorded seven interceptions during his senior year, which earned him a spot on the 2017 Under Armour All-American team.
The rest of Kary’s journey may be more familiar: Once he enrolled at LSU last season, he started at nickel as a true freshman until an embarrassing loss to Troy, lost his starting position (because of “complacency,” he’d later say), only to regain it again this season during the Louisiana Tech game Sept. 22.
Along the way, it appeared he shirked another attempted moniker — SHY, short for “Streetz Hottest Youngin’” — that never really caught on.
“Too many names,” Vincent Sr. said.
Today, if you check Kary’s Twitter account, ‘K-Cinco’ is labeled in his handle.
This season, he has 27 tackles, seven passes defended, plus the interception and sack he recorded last week at Arkansas.
Says LSU coach Ed Orgeron: “He’s become the player that we recruited.”
‘We didn't miss anything’
Vincent Sr. said he and Kary last talked Wednesday.
There’s still much pride for the father, who has watched his son also help LSU 4x100 relay team win the Southeastern Conference championship last spring.
He’ll be watching again when K-Cinco takes the field against Rice.
“I’ve told him to stay focused,” Vincent Sr. said. “He knows that our family, we’ll be watching him on TV. We didn’t miss anything. Everything is OK.”
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