College receiver, return specialist vows to ‘make everybody proud’ wherever he ends up playing
Lincoln Victor wanted to give in to the doubt, to the frustration, to the confusion, in the middle of this football season at the University of Hawai’i.
For the first time in his life, he wasn’t having fun in the game.
But no. There was no way he could leave his teammates during the regular season. He said he is proud that he stuck it out, despite the lack of playing time, despite the question marks regarding his role within the program.
On Monday, after the regular season ended and just before the end of the academic semester, Victor met with his head coach. The two shook hands, Victor said, wished each other luck, and Victor put himself into the transfer portal.
Lincoln Victor, the 2018 state high school football Player of the Year for Washington after leading Union to an undefeated season and Class 4A state championship, will be changing college programs.
“I get really emotional when I talk about it because I love this game. This is Year 15 for me. I started when I was 5 years old,” Victor said via telephone interview Tuesday night. “This year, it was a refresher for me. I will continue to work, continue to work. I’m always going to work. This is only the beginning.
“I’m going to continue to make everybody proud. Wherever I land, it’s going to be a helluva story, man.”
Victor talked about his first battle with mental health issues, in regard to the sport he loves, as well as the decision-making process to leave Hawai’i. He stressed his love for his teammates, and the respect he has for the coaching staff. Yes, the same staff that confused him, frustrated him, throughout a trying 2020 campaign.
Victor played in 12 of the 15 games in 2019, scoring three touchdowns — a solid debut for a true freshman. Victor is a receiver and a returner in college. He played quarterback and defensive back at Union.
“I was coming into my second year thinking this has to be the breakout season,” Victor recalled. “Where I can show everyone on the team, the Mountain West, the nation, that I’m one of the top players. I was coming in with that mindset.”
Hawai’i went through a coaching change, though, and then, a major shift in the philosophy of the offense.
“I came to Hawai’i to play in the run-and-shoot, to play for Coach Rolo,” Victor said, referring to Nick Rolovich, who is now the head coach at Washington State. “Things change. I didn’t come to Hawai’i to play in a two-receiver offense.”
It was also difficult to maneuver such major changes during a pandemic, with the uncertainty of a season.
There were already signs, Victor said, that he would be on the outside-looking-in before the first game of the season. Then he did not do himself any favors by fumbling on his first touch of the 2020 season.
“I kind of shot myself in the foot right there,” Victor said. “After that, I was trying to gain trust back, gain trust back.”
It never happened. In all, Victor played in five of the team’s eight games, catching two balls and returning that one kickoff.
The frustration mounted. He had never felt anything like that. But even during his struggles, he knew this was a team sport.
“At one point, a switch flipped on. The situation is what it is, but I can’t be negative around these guys because I care so much about them.”
In fact, Victor said the most difficult part of leaving the program would be saying goodbye to his teammates.
“It was a true brotherhood and a true culture,” Victor said.
Victor soldiered on, until the end of the regular season and semester.
On Monday, he went in for what he described as a business meeting with Todd Graham, the head coach.
“I wanted to do it the right way,” Victor said. “I went in there like a professional, straight to the head man. We talked about it. I thanked him. I said, ‘I have a ton of respect for you and your program.’ He told me it was a good-terms thing. He was willing to help me.”
No hard feelings. It just wasn’t working for them.
“Bridges aren’t burnt,” Victor said, adding that he has gained a lot from the experience.
“I’ve never been a finger-pointing guy. There is always somebody you can learn from. I have a whole bunch of respect for Coach Graham. I have a huge respect for the staff. I just feel like it wouldn’t be right for me to blame a coach or point a finger and start playing the blame game. At the end of the day, it’s about me.”
Not having fun on the football field was getting to Victor. It had never before happened.
He showed his potential as a sophomore at Union. As a junior, he led the Titans to a Class 4A Greater St. Helens League title, stopping powerhouse Camas’ incredible streak. That year’s team was stunned in the first round of the state playoffs, though.
Victor, known as much for his leadership skills at Union as his playing talents, vowed then that the Titans would take over Class 4A football in 2018.
Then he delivered.
He threw 26 touchdown passes and for more than 2,500 yards. He also rushed for 10 touchdowns and close to 800 yards. Union had several come-from-behind victories in its perfect season.
Victor also would play defense when the team needed a spark, shutting down opposing receivers as a defensive back.
The Associated Press voted him the state’s player of the year for all classifications after the Titans won the state championship. A quarterback in high school, he knew he would be a slot receiver in college. He was thrilled to get the opportunity to shine at Hawai’i.
This year, though, brought challenges he had never experienced. It affected his well-being.
“It’s something I struggled with. I ended up bottling that up for a while. It was rough. I didn’t want to express it. I didn’t want to show any signs of weakness,” Victor said. “A lot of things were trying to break me. That was a difficult obstacle for me to get over. At one point, I wanted to stop playing football.”
Eventually, Victor did tell his parents and some close friends.
Talking helped. And it made him realize he still loves football, but he needed a change.
“All I want is the opportunity to play football and be valued as a player,” he said.
“Once I made the decision, I felt a huge lift off my shoulders. It was constantly on my mind.”
Victor also wanted to thank all the support he had from loved ones back in Washington, noting how he appreciates that they care about who he is as a person, not just a football player.
The football player now has another decision to make.
He plans to be back in Vancouver next week. He is not sure if he will make a decision right away and head to his new college in January, or take a couple more months and join a program in the spring. His options, he said, are wide open. With rule changes and because of the pandemic, Victor expects to have three years of playing eligibility remaining.
“I’m going to come back as a different beast, a different animal. After this year, the chip on my shoulder has got a lot bigger,” he said.
“I truly believe a different Lincoln Victor as a player is going to come out next season. That’s just investing in myself and believing in myself. Adversity brings the best out of someone.”