LSU: Kary Vincent track

KNOXVILLE, TN - MAY 13, 2018 - during the 2018 SEC Track and Field Championship relay at Tom Black Track in Knoxville, TN. 

Bennie Brazell walked across the track, wraparound sunglasses reflecting the sun, his men's relay team practicing behind him, and reached for a legal pad and pen.

The LSU assistant track and field coach scribbled a few words, then handed the pad and pen back.

"You can't be soft!!!" the note read.

"You just can't," Brazell said, backpedaling toward the sprinters. "That's what I tell him. You can't be soft."

No, it must always be "fourth and for the game," Brazell said he tells Kary Vincent, who is attempting to become the latest Tiger to star in both football and track.

Success is contingent on intensity and focus, which must heighten in the short span of seconds between receiving the baton and handing it off again, and that focus can't be lost in the balance between spring football and track practices.

That balance is easier on a Monday like this one, when football isn't in full practice and Vincent can miss walk-throughs with the rest of the defensive backs to devote most of his time to his relay teammates.

But on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when football practices in full pads, it can sometimes be a mad dash in the short commute between the football and track facilities, when the loud growl of Vincent's Ford Mustang can be heard across Nicholson Drive.

And then there's the catch-up film sessions, like when Vincent had to review a Saturday football scrimmage from March 16, a day that he helped LSU win the 400-meter relay at the Louisiana Classics in Lafayette.

Vincent will prioritize LSU's spring game on April 6, although the university also hosts its first outdoor track meet that morning.

It's a stacked spring, but Vincent has following a hallowed legacy. The list includes Eddie Kennison — an All-SEC wide receiver who was a four-time All-American sprinter from 1993-95 — Trindon Holliday, a star return specialist and national champion sprinter from 2006-09.

Brazell himself was a part of five NCAA champion relay teams from 2002-05, while helping LSU win the 2003 BCS national championship as a wide receiver.

"He knows that, what the standard is," Brazell said. "He knows it's not going to be easy. ... But at the end of the day, we all did it, so we don’t want to hear that."

Vincent has proven he can succeed in the balance.

After running the lead leg on the 400-meter team as a freshman last season, which won the Southeastern Conference championship, Vincent took hold of the starting nickel safety position during the 2018 football season — a redemptive effort after losing the job after starting in three games as a true freshman in 2017.

In defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's defense, which often pressures opponents by creating and winning favorable one-on-one matchups, Vincent became the defensive back responsible for shutting down the opponent's slot receiver.

Nickel safety is an overlooked position, Vincent said, one of increasing importance that NFL teams are dishing out high-dollar salaries for, such as Patrick Robinson's four-year, $20 million contract with the New Orleans Saints.

"They know I'm the matchup guy," said Vincent, who recorded seven passes defended and a one-handed interception against Arkansas in 2018. "Coach looks at me and says, 'Nowadays, the first-rounders are being put in the slot. So, I expect when we go into a game, for you to cover the slot.' "

Vincent is proud of his résumé, which includes holding Georgia's Mecole Hardman — who ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine — to two catches for 23 yards, and muffling Ole Miss' potential first-rounder, A.J. Brown, to one catch for 9 yards in the three passes in which Vincent was targeted.

Vincent did struggle against Alabama's Jerry Jeudy, who in four targets against Vincent caught four passes for 77 yards.

"He went in there and played very well at that position," LSU football coach Ed Orgeron said Tuesday. "I think he's a very confident player going into this year."

Now, Vincent's responsibilities have expanded in both track and football. He will be competing in individual sprints (the 100- and 200-meter dash) for the first time at LSU, and he's now returning kickoffs for the football team.

Starting Thursday, Vincent will join LSU in a return to his home state to compete in the Texas Relays — a 94-year old invitational at the University of Texas.

The annual meet is generally LSU's first test against top competition. The Tigers' 400-relay team lost by four-thousandths of a second to the University of Houston last year, and the Cougars' relay team eventually won the national championship.

Vincent will run in both the 400- and 800-meter relays at Mike A. Myers Stadium — the same stadium he helped set the high school national record in the 800 relay (1 minute, 23.52 seconds) for Port Arthur Memorial High in the Class 6A state championships in 2017.

It will be Vincent's first track meet in Texas since the death of his father, Kary Vincent Sr., who died the day after Christmas after battling pneumonia twice in 2018.

Vincent Sr., a former Texas A&M cornerback, was his son's track coach at Memorial High School, and he helped push Vincent Jr. toward winning two Class 6A state championships in the 200 meters.

"He says he's a machine," Brazell said. "That's what he says. We're going to see."

Track in the family

Vincent's rise to athletic prestige occurred in Port Arthur, Texas, where his father made it his mission to raise his son right, following the death of Vincent Sr.'s brother, Abram Ford, who was shot to death on the streets of the city in 2007.

But before then, Vincent lived with his mother, Montrelle Shedrick, in the west Houston suburb of Alief.

Shedrick had never played sports at a high level herself; but when Vincent was 9, she enrolled him into a track program called the Houston Heat.

While other kids his age were still running around playgrounds, Vincent — or "KJ" as Shedrick calls him — was already running 100-, 200-, and 400-meter races, learning from his coach, Joe Payton, the basics of how his arms should move, how his legs should extend, how his stride should fall.

"My husband thought he was a natural," said Glenda Payton, who took over the track program when Joe died of a heart attack in 2008. "He would tell his mom, 'He's going to be good one day. He's going to be great runner.' He knew."

Vincent attended Budewig Intermediate, where Glenda is still a secretary for special education, and sometimes his teacher would send him to Glenda's class whenever he'd get in trouble for talking too much.

Glenda said Vincent just needed to be challenged more. He'd always finish his classwork quickly, and that usually left him with nothing else to do but chat with his neighbors.

Glenda became a mentor to Vincent.

"I told him how he has to take control of his own actions, and how he has to discipline himself," Glenda said. "Just giving him encouraging words."

Even once Vincent moved to Port Arthur, he would return to Houston in the summers, and he'd sit next to Glenda — a child missing his home — and lay his head on her shoulder.

"You're going to be OK," she'd tell him. "Give it a chance. Just keep doing what you're doing."

And once Vincent became a star at Memorial, rising to the nation's No. 13-ranked cornerback, according to 247Sports, he would still look at the bleachers from the sideline to see if his mother had driven in from Houston.

"He'd look around and he'd find me," Shedrick said. "Sometimes I'd be sitting way up high."

'I'm still going'

Vincent spent Christmas with his mother and her family.

And on the next day, he returned to Baton Rouge to travel with the team for their New Year's Day bowl game at the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona.

It was that evening when Shedrick heard that Vincent Sr. had died.

Shedrick called every LSU number she had in her phone to reach her son, and once she connected with an administrator, Vincent was sitting in an office at the football facility, having already received news that his father was in the hospital.

Later that evening, Vincent texted his mother: My dad wouldn't have it any other way. I'm still going.

Vincent started in LSU's 38-32 victory against Central Florida in the Fiesta Bowl, and he was able to find his mother in the stands.

"Sometimes you get strength and you look up to your kids," Shedrick said. "Because the strength he has, I just couldn't imagine doing what he did."

Shortly after that game, Vincent returned to Budewig Intermediate to visit Glenda. Over the years, he'd made a habit of returning to his old school to mentor kids like Glenda had him.

Teachers pulled kids from classrooms to meet with Vincent, and they listened and gaped and asked for his autograph.

Vincent had a new part of himself to share.

"I think he can be a role model for some of these young kids that went through some of the same things as he did in his life," Glenda said. "He lets them know they can make a difference in life. He's going to be someone that can communicate with the community."

Vincent said "everybody has taken their time to grieve" in the family, although "it never gets easier."

"Life hits us all," Vincent said. "I'm trying to use it as motivation. I know what my dad wanted for me. I can't say I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him to be in the position to do all this. So, I'm just doing what I knew made him proud."