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November 16, 2012

BIG year for a BIG man

By: Jimmy Robertson

After four long years, Tech offensive tackle Vinston Painter is living up to his potential on the field and off

He stands 6-foot-6 and weighs a rather sturdy 310 pounds. He possesses unworldly athleticism, and to put that in perspective, he runs a faster 40-yard time than all of Virginia Tech’s current tight ends, all of its defensive tackles, all of its inside linebackers and several of its defensive ends.

His abs are as solid as Hokie stone, his arms are as long as goal posts and he’s got bodybuilder biceps.

Yet for all his physical gifts, Vinston Painter received more attention the past four years for not being able to get on the football field than anything else. That is, until this past August, when he unintentionally created a hair-raising event among local media mongrels after deciding to snip the lengthy dreads from his head, thus ending a three-year love affair with his locks.

“I’m already big, bigger than most people, and the dreadlocks were just a huge intimidation factor,” said Painter, who worked an internship in Baltimore last summer. “You go into an office with a suit on and dreads, and people are more scared of you than interested in you. I thought it was time for them [his dreadlocks] to go and time to make a change. I am a father, so I feel it’s time to look the part and take every role seriously. It started with the hair, and I’m working on the lifestyle now.”

Those statements essentially sum up the 23-year-old young man from Norfolk, Va. After all, the only thing bigger than his size may be his maturity. Of course, that tends to happen when you become a college graduate, a father, and finally, for the first time, a starter on the offensive line at Tech within a year’s time.

After four years of answering questions as to why someone with his size and physical skills hadn’t set foot on the field with more regularity, Painter has started every game at right tackle for the Hokies in 2012. Four years of waiting, wondering and wishing ended when he took the field for the first snap of the Georgia Tech game, and minus a few snaps in blowout wins over Austin Peay and Bowling Green, he hasn’t come off the field since.

“I can’t even describe the feeling,” Painter said. “To go from high school, where you played every single snap, to not playing for three or four seasons, you’d think that there would be some rust and it would be rough to get back in the game.

“But when I finally hit the field for the Georgia Tech game, it felt like me again. All the hard work and preparation had come full circle.”

Painter arrived at Tech as an immensely touted recruit out of Maury High School. Talk about attention, he sifted through offers from every major college in the nation. To put it in perspective, the dude received almost as much love as Kate Upton.

He later narrowed his choices down to Miami and Tech. A close attachment to his family led him to choose Southwest Virginia over South Beach. Targeted coercion from former Maury teammates Kam Chancellor and Prince Parker also influenced him.

A five-star talent, he expected to get on the field quickly. Instead, he barely got to dress for games. After a redshirt year, he played just 92 snaps the next three seasons, or the equivalent of less than two whole games.

“It’s a series of things,” Painter said as to why he didn’t play earlier in this career. “I’ve changed positions quite a few times since I’ve been here, and at this level, you can’t just pick up the assignments in a matter of weeks or months. The learning curve at the different positions was tough, but once I got settled in at tackle, it got much easier for me to focus on one position.

“Then two years ago, in the spring, I dislocated my knee, so that set me back, too. It’s been a series of things I’ve had to deal with, but now that I’m settled at tackle, it’s worked out. I’ve actually had time to learn the position.”

He spent his redshirt year working at defensive tackle after talking defensive coordinator Bud Foster into giving him a chance. He became Sergio Render’s personal blocking dummy, and not quite instinctive enough, he found himself moved to offensive guard the following spring.

“Would I do it [try to play defensive tackle] again? I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not,” Painter said. “I’d probably be farther along in my development if I had just stayed on the offensive line, but the decision was made and you can’t change it now.”

He spent the next two seasons toiling at right guard, seeing little action, as he played behind Jaymes Brooks – who started every game for three years. The coaching staff then moved Painter to right tackle before last season, his junior season, and he backed up Blake DeChristopher, a four-year starter who won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the best offensive lineman in the ACC last season.

Ultimately, that’s why Painter hasn’t played much in his career, at least until this season. He’s always been behind terrific players whose experience and talent overrode his physical attributes and potential.

Yet to his credit, he never thought about transferring or bailing on a program that offered him so much promise. Unlike many his age, he stayed patient. Plus, he liked the coaches and his teammates, and he liked Blacksburg.

“People have asked me why I didn’t leave and go some place where I’d play sooner,” Painter said. “I’m not a quitter. I started this thing, and my parents told me that, ‘You’ve started this. Now, you need to finish it. There’s no need in quitting. Your time will come. Just keep working and keep persevering, and the good will happen.’ And it did.”

He certainly never quit working, particularly in Tech’s strength and conditioning program. This past winter, he recorded a front squat of 500 pounds and a bench press of 430. He ranked in the top 10 on the team in all the four major lifts. On top of that, he recorded a lineman-best 4.74 seconds in the 40.

During summer conditioning, the team often ran 110-yard sprints in a pre-determined time in the searing heat of June and July. Most of the time, Painter’s teammates were huffing and puffing afterward like freight trains. In contrast, Painter looked like he had taken a leisurely saunter around the Duck Pond.

All that has prompted good-natured jokes over the years from his teammates, who constantly ask him where he gets his steroids. He takes it in stride.

“I’ve just been blessed by God and done it through hard work,” Painter said. “I’ve always enjoyed working hard and pushing myself in the weight room ever since high school.

“A lot of times, I have guys who want to work out with me and get with me in the weight room. That’s not an issue. I‘m always willing to let guys train with me because making another teammate strong or stronger is not only going to help him, but also the team. As a teammate, I need for him to be better, just like the team needs me to be better.”

A top-notch person, he continues to progress toward that same level as a player. He knows it will take more work, more sweat and more discipline – all things instilled into him by his parents in Norfolk.

Though not married, both of Painter’s parents (Painter lives with his mother, Inez) kept him from straying in the streets of Virginia’s second-largest, and maybe its roughest, city. His mother works as a schoolteacher at Lakeland High, while his father works at the Naval shipyard in Portsmouth, Va., so they understand discipline and work ethic.

Painter learned as a child that his margin for error wasn’t the same as other kids in the neighborhood. Years later, he has grown to be thankful for that.

“We didn’t have the white picket fence and the dog in the backyard. It [living in Norfolk] had its ups and downs, but I always had my parents coaching me up on life,” he said. “The majority of the time, when they said something was going to happen if I went to this area or that area, it usually happened. But being a kid, you’re curious. I didn’t go looking for trouble, but it’s always there in Norfolk. It made me into who I am today. It built my character and built my toughness.”

He hopes to pass those traits on to his daughter, a 1-year-old named Jalia who lives with her mother in Petersburg, Va. He followed his parents’ lead and stays involved in his daughter’s life. She serves as his motivation, the prime reason why he graduated last spring with a degree in residential property management and why he cut his dreadlocks to enhance future job opportunities in the event his NFL dreams do not become reality.

“People’s perceptions hold more weight than what you say out of your mouth sometimes,” he said, again, discussing the cutting of his dreadlocks. “I figured I could cut that out of the picture. I want to leave the best possible impression I can, and usually, that works out.

“It’s a small price to pay for bigger things. I want to leave all possibilities and all doors open.”

In the near term, he wants to get better at his craft as this season winds down. That means keeping Logan Thomas upright and triggering a rushing attack that has been stagnant at times this season. It also means hopefully going to a bowl game.

Only this time, the big guy from Norfolk, the one with all the size and physical attributes and potential, wouldn’t be taking up space on the sidelines. On the contrary, he’d be starting and playing. All four quarters, too.

At the very least, he’s now changed people’s perceptions of him. Just ask the media. Now when those reporters interview him, they take a slightly different line of questioning.


It’s Friday night in the offseason, what are you doing?

VP: “I’m either on the road heading home [to see his daughter], or at home [in Blacksburg] playing Xbox. Every now and then, I’ll go out and hang with my friends. We’ll be at someone’s house playing video games and just chilling.”

If you could trade places with someone for a day, who would it be?

VP: “Bill Gates [former CEO and founder of Microsoft]. He’s got billions and billions that he can basically just sit back and collect. The company basically runs itself. He can just watch his bank account increase, and that sounds like an excellent life to live.”

Facebook or Twitter?

VP: “I have both, but I prefer Twitter. Facebook is cool when you’re trying to meet people or catch up with old friends. But Twitter is great entertainment. You can get a lot of laughs on Twitter. I always turn to Twitter for entertainment.”

Who’s your favorite football player?

VP: “Ray Lewis [of the Baltimore Ravens]. That’s not because people say I look like him. I like him because he’s intense and plays with great passion. He’s a great motivator and a great leader. I even watch some of his speeches on YouTube that are very inspirational. He’s a guy who one day I’d like to mimic his intensity and be as great of a leader as he is.”

Ten years from now, what will you be doing?

VP: “I’d love to go to the NFL, but that’s always a big question mark. You never know what’ll happen with that. My degree is in residential property management, and that’s a field where people climb the ladder quickly. In 10 years, I’ll either be making great money in the NFL with a new contract and living the life, or I’ll be a property manager. In the future, I’d like to have my own business. Not necessarily retired, but have a successful business – maybe a restaurant or my own apartment complex. That would be a dream.

“But the best way to put it is Vinston Painter will still be Vinston Painter – trying to find ways to make things happen for himself and his family.”