by Zach Mason
THIRTY-THREE THOUSAND FANS ROARED in harmony as Lincoln Victor caught a pass and dashed into the end zone to extend Washington State’s lead over top-25-ranked Wisconsin.
The Cougars weren’t supposed to win that game, but they did.
And Victor wasn’t supposed to be on the field, but he was.
There are many roads to success in college football, each path scattered with varying levels of resistance. Victor’s journey came with enough speed bumps and roadblocks to satisfy an entire team, but the Hawaii native leaned on rock-solid principles and an inordinate amount of patience to find his way through.
A quiet beginning
Pukalani is a mellow community nestled in the upcountry of Maui. With just under 10,000 residents, it’s the archetypal “everybody knows everybody” kind of town, and as such, life moves at a categorically slower pace.
But in this peaceful homestead nearly two decades ago, there was a boy whose energy and general temperament deviated from the communal norm.
While the residents of Pukalani shared a more laid-back attitude, Victor described his younger self as energetic and assertive. His parents put him in indoor soccer and just a week later, they pulled him out.
“I was just too aggressive,” he said. “I didn’t understand the concept of the game. I was just too aggressive to be indoors playing soccer. That’s when my dad made the decision that I was ready to play football.”
Around that time, the Victor family made a bold decision to uproot their family and move to the mainland in search of a better life. Victor’s parents took him and his four siblings to Vancouver, Washington – a small town considered a suburb of Portland, Oregon – and all seven squeezed into a one-bedroom apartment.
The transition wasn’t exactly smooth for Lincoln, who struggled adapting to his new surroundings.
“Going from being raised in the Polynesian culture and the Hawaiian culture to being introduced to the mainland and how people interact here is so different compared to Hawaii,” Victor said. “It’s two different worlds.”
This world came with its own set of difficulties and stressors, and the financial situation wasn’t ideal early on. The young Victor rarely had more than a football to play with, and even speaking with friends provoked discomfort for Victor.
“I had to talk a different way,” he said. “Our accent and our language is completely different from proper English. Growing up, my English was always broken, it was always different compared to a lot of the kids I grew up around. For me, I became very closed off at a young age. I didn’t really understand how to handle my emotions of being different.”
The football field served as a place of refuge for Victor, who credits his parents for recognizing its potential as a healthy activity for his mental and social development.
“I think my family realized that me being closed off was not only a detrimental thing to my development but they knew they had to get me involved in something to keep me around people and make new friends,” he said.
Victor’s dad served as his football coach and instilled a bedrock of morals and values that would carry Lincoln through waves of adversity he’d face later in his career.
One of his father’s key maxims was “Hard work never goes unnoticed.” This line motivated Victor to modify his habits to fit his goals, from waking up at four in the morning to work out to leading player-only practices at local parks on the weekends.
“When I stepped up on the field, I knew that the person across from me, no matter how hard they worked, no matter what they did, they would never catch up to me in the amount of hours that I’ve put into this game,” he said. “That developed my confidence in being able to play free out there.”
The power of hard work
Victor’s work ethic followed him into college and remains a significant reason why the speedy wideout was among the nation’s leaders in receptions (24) and yards (324) through the first three games of this season before he went down with an injury.
Washington State quarterback Cam Ward, one of the most dynamic players in the country, shared a similar appetite for the grind and the two spent the last offseason meeting regularly to review plays, coverages, and build chemistry.
“Putting in the extra hours has played out on the field as you see this season with the success that he’s having and my success,” Victor said. “Being on the same page and growing that relationship together on and off the field and that connection that we have now is so greatly appreciated because I know he trusts me when the moments are big. And I trust him.”
Humility in high school
It’s hard to believe the top receiver on one of the country’s most prolific offenses wasn’t even on scholarship just a season ago, and as a high school recruit, only held one FBS offer from his home state of Hawaii.
Each situation has an explanation, but neither are easily reconcilable. In high school, Victor had two highly ranked players on his team in his childhood friends Jojo Siofeli and Darien Chase. The former was a MaxPreps All-American as a freshman, while the latter ended up as the top-ranked athlete prospect in the state of Washington with offers from Oregon, Washington and several other PAC-12 schools.
Siofeli and Chase were lightning rods for college scouts’ attention, and Victor was just the 5-9, 160-pound quarterback feeding them the ball.
“Having to take a back seat to my two best friends taught me how to be humble and how to continue to know that things aren’t always going to go your way,” he said. “And to keep your head down and keep pushing, keep working cause someone’s going to find you.”
But the revolving door of college scouts constantly overlooking him caught up to Victor, causing him to doubt the process he previously believed in with full conviction.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have days where I spent nights in my room crying, praying to God and asking Him questions that I shouldn’t have been asking,” Victor said. “Questioning His process and the journey that He set out for me. I think continuing to be strong in my faith and doing a lot of the things that people weren’t willing to do was eventually going to pan out for me.”
Victor finally started attracting attention in the offseasons of his junior and senior campaigns, when he attended an array of 7-on-7 camps as a wide receiver and outplayed elite competition.
“I absolutely dominated the landscape of 7-on-7,” he said. “That’s when I started to get buzz at camps and started to pick up interest from some colleges. That’s where I found the confidence in myself to know I can play at the next level regardless of the position it may be. If I’m dominating a lot of the guys who are four, five-star athletes who are committed to these SEC schools, why can’t I do it?”
Victor ultimately went with his only FBS offer and signed with Hawaii. He saw plenty of action as a true freshman, playing in all 12 games and recording 10 catches with three touchdowns.
A change in leadership his sophomore year led to a drastic reduction in playing time, and Victor ultimately decided to enter the transfer portal.
“I wasn’t in the right headspace,” he said. “At that point in my life, I was very low. I wasn’t loving football. That was the first time ever in my life where I felt that I didn’t want to play anymore.”
Other coaches in the Mountain West conference recognized Victor’s potential and offered him a scholarship to join their respective squads, selling him on the idea of being a featured component of their offenses.
But Victor got a phone call from his former head coach, Nick Rolovich, that swung his decision in another direction. It was an offer to play in a Power-5 conference at Washington State, but the drawback was that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the surplus of players on the roster, he’d have to walk-on and pay for his tuition.
“I remember this day vividly,” Victor said. “He was like “If I had the money, I would give it to you. And for me, at that point, after that conversation, I really took a step back and realized I didn’t get into this profession for the money. I got into this profession at a young age for the love of the game. So making that decision to become a walk-on was pretty easy for me. Because it was not only another challenge, but another piece to add to the story. I felt as if I could overcome this, that I could do whatever I want if I put my mind to it.”
The rise of Lincoln Victor
Victor became a contributor in his first two years in Pullman, averaging a catch or two per game and returning kicks before breaking out to start the 2023 campaign.
And when he returns from injury, he’ll jump back into his role as Washington State’s most explosive player, all the while serving as an example that hard work, faith and perseverance will eventually pay off.
“I will be forever grateful for [my experiences] because I wouldn’t change that journey for anything,” he said. “It’s made me and molded me into the player that I am today. I think the biggest reward that I reap from those experiences is being able to share that with people. Being able to tell people I’ve been through a lot of the things that you’re dealing with. That’s the biggest reward.”
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Zach Mason is an independent journalist based in Seoul. A former correspondent for the San Antonio Express-News, Mason also has several bylines in the Houston Chronicle and Dallas Morning News. Support Zach’s work by following him on X and subscribing to the newsletter above.