FAB 2. Vea Kills Them With Kindness
Don’t let the big smile and soft-spoken voice fool you.
New Buccaneers defensive tackle Vita Vea isn’t the big teddy bear he appeared to be at his press conference.
In fact, he’s quite a monster on the football field.
Keep in mind that the massive 6-foot-4, 347-pound Vea was named the PAC-12 Defensive Lineman of the year after he recorded 43 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and four passes defensed. Opposing NFL coaches and offensive coordinators will soon call him a “game-wrecker.”
But you wouldn’t know it watching his press conference where he was downright shy at times, grinning during the whole thing.
“He’s very humble – super humble,” said Vea’s long-time girlfriend Alexus Atchley, a former Washington basketball player, who attended his initial press conference at One Buccaneer Place. “He doesn’t like to talk about himself. During this whole process he’s just like, ‘Look at my film.’ He doesn’t want to sit there and talk about himself.
“He’s like the most loving guy, I think you get that feeling from his interviews. He’s super-relaxed and outgoing. He gets a little nervous up front, but he likes to have fun like he said, and go with the flow. It’s that Polynesian vibe.”
Much of Vea’s off-field persona has been shaped by his Polynesian culture in which the men are raised to be polite and respectful. Off the field, some of the greatest Polynesian players like former San Diego Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau and former Pittsburgh Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu were often reserved and low key, but on the field they were absolute warriors.
Vea, whose game resembles that of former first-round defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, another Polynesian great, is the same way. Yet early on at Washington, the gentle giant was being too gentle in practice and the coaches needed to see him play with more nastiness. After the draft I placed a call to Huskies defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake, who I used to cover when he was the Tampa Bay defensive backs under both Jon Gruden and Raheem Morris, for another interview about Vea now that he was a Buccaneer.
“I think it was more in practice going against your own teammates of just always playing with an edge,” Lake told me. “I think in practice, a couple years ago, he didn’t. This last year he really turned it on. He got his skills where they needed to be. Obviously it got him drafted really high.
“I think the more he matures the more he gets better at this thing. Once game day gets there for sure, he is going to be hard to deal with for the National Football League. He plays with an edge, but it was more just trying to get him at that wreak-havoc level that he could always play at. When he did turn it on he completely ruined every single play our offense tried to practice.”
The greatness of Hall of Fame Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp spoiled Tampa Bay fans that have longed for his type of dominance and attitude for nearly two decades. Gerald McCoy, one of the greatest Buccaneers of all-time and a six-time Pro Bowler, has come under fire from some about being too nice on the field and criticized by some for helping opponents up after plays and smiling and shaking hands with them after losses.
But McCoy’s gentlemanly ways are no different than Tampa Bay’s other Hall of Fame defensive lineman Lee Roy Selmon, who also showed great sportsmanship during and after games. I see nothing wrong with this approach and McCoy shouldn’t be criticized for being somebody that he’s not. He’s not Sapp and never will be.
Vea isn’t like Sapp, either, and that may have disappointed some fans that watched his initial press conference. Vea was all smiles and downright bashful at times.
In fact, he’s very similar to McCoy personality-wise in that Vea is nice, friendly and likes to joke around. Time will tell if he can have the type of successful career that McCoy has had in Tampa Bay over the past eight years.
Yet Bucs general manager Jason Licht has zero concerns about Vea’s fun-loving, easygoing personality off the field. What attracted him to Vea is the brute force that the Huskies’ mammoth tackle plays with.
“He definitely is not soft once he lines up,” Licht said. “One of the things we talked about during his visit was one of the main reasons he fell in love with football. When he started playing football he said, ‘Wait, this is legal? I get to beat up people? This is fun!’
“Football is his passion. He takes advantage of his size and his strength. It’s pretty rare – the combination that he has and the athleticism. So he has a lot of fun beating the crap out of the guy in front of him. For the fans … I wouldn’t expect to see a nice guy once he puts the pads on.
“Is Vita a people pleaser? Yes, he is. But he wants to please people by dominating on the field and being an enforcer.”
Vea admits that it took a while for him to play with the down-in and down-out tenacity that the coaches wanted to see at Washington.
“I think it was me more trying to find that consistent edge going out there and figuring out the game, and the pace of the game,” Vea said. “It was something new for me to adapt to. Then once I got it all down it became easier for me and actually became fun as well.“
Lake said that Vea was concerned about hurting his teammates during practice, which is why he didn’t go full bore at first, but once he got down the practice etiquette he began to dominate during the week and on Saturdays.
“The type of guy he is, there is a part of him that probably doesn’t want to roll his own teammates,” Lake said. “How the pros have to practice now they always have to stay on their feet so he will fit right in with all of that. At the NFL level you aren’t really going to see that in practice because he is always going to be taking care of his teammates playing at that level. He’s not trying to disrupt everything. But now he knows that when it’s time to go live they’re going you’re going to see the real Vita Vea and the reason why he was picked in the first round.”
Atchley has seen Vea play with more of edge each season, but loves the fact that he can flip the switch and revert back to being kind, humble and loving off the field.
“I think he’s learned how to do it well because the last couple of seasons when he’s in the game he’s there to do his job,” Atchley said. “I think that’s the best thing. Having him be that good on the field, but come off and be the sweetest guy ever – what more could you ask for? I think that’s one of the best attributes he has.”
During his sit-down with the local media last week, Vea was asked if he ever engages in any trash talk with opponents. He smiled and said he didn’t.
In fact, Vea kills them with kindness.
“I try to talk to them (offensive line), say a few words here and there – nothing like trash talk. I’m just having fun out there,” Vea said. “If they say something to me then I will respond back. If they ask me a question, like, ‘Why aren’t you wearing gloves?’ I’ll try and respond and make up a funny response on the spot – something like that.”
Vea likes to joke around with his opponents, who probably feel toyed with as they find that trying to stop the hulkish defensive tackle is not exactly fun and games.
“I think the guys he goes up against are more worried about his power and sheer size than anything Vita is saying to them,” Lake said. “His hands, his strike, his get-off and how massive this human being is – there are going to be a lot of interior lineman that are nervous when Vita Vea lines up in front of them. They won’t be thinking about talking.”