STILLWATER — Oklahoma State’s Lucien Antoine fell in love with football later in life than most college players. The feeling hit him like a ton of bricks, too. Well, technically, he hit some other guy like a ton of bricks, and that’s when he fell in love. "I remember the first day we put pads on, and they showed us how to hit,” Antoine said in his accented English, a big smile flashing on his face. "After my first hit, man, I’m in love.” Antoine, now 23, had been in the U.S. for three years before he started playing football. Basketball had been the game he loved watching on television and playing in the street with his friends while growing up in Haiti. When he moved to Florida to join his mother in 2001, Antoine, then 16, learned he was too aggressive for the hardwood. "I believe he fouled out pretty early in the contest, I believe that,” OSU assistant football coach Joe DeForest said. "You watch any time in a live drill, when he has the chance to put the wood on somebody, and see what he does. That’s why we call him ‘The Punisher.’ He enjoys hitting. He lives for it.” This year, Antoine is hoping to bounce back from ACL surgery to establish himself as both a big hitter and solid overall safety. It is Antoine’s dream to go from a life of struggle in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and a country ravaged by political violence, to the NFL. "Life in Haiti, it’s rough, but at the same time, it’s fun,” Antoine said of his homeland, where about 80 percent of the population lives in poverty. "It’s tough because in a family only one or two people are working. It’s tough to find jobs. It is a third world country, and you work for everything. It’s not easy. It’s not like America. But at the same time, you’re used to it. You’ve been there your whole life.” Antoine’s mother moved to Florida when Lucien was about a year old. The future OSU player was raised by his grandmother and the rest of the large Haitian family. Antoine said his grandmother’s house had four bedrooms, "but in like each bedroom ... probably had like two or three or maybe four people in it. It was a big family. Everybody stayed together.” Antoine said a couple people in the family would have jobs to support everybody. To make extra money, Antoine’s grandmother sold lunches she cooked in her kitchen. "Some very good food,” Antoine said. "Fried pork and plantains and salad.” With his mother working as a housekeeper in Florida, Antoine was able to afford school, which isn’t free in Haiti. Around the time he turned 16, the green card his mother had been trying to secure for him for years finally came through. Antoine spoke with his mother on the phone frequently but had only seen her in person a handful of times before he moved to the U.S. "It was an instant connection,” Antoine said. "Boom, we just connected. That’s my mom.” Antoine, who spoke Haitian Creole and French, was starting from scratch with English. He was placed in the ninth grade in Coral Springs, Fla. His younger half-brother helped him learn English, and while he is certainly fluent, Antoine said he still occasionally feels slightly insecure when speaking in large groups. "You can tell he has some Haitian in him,” Oklahoma State teammate Orie Lemon said. But everyone agrees that he fits in flawlessly. "I know he had a rough life. It was worse than what I come from,” said Lemon, a linebacker from Houston. "But he’s been able to be family with this football team. He has no enemies out there. He’s brothers with everybody.” DeForest said: "He’s a lot of peoples’ favorite. He’s just a happy-go-lucky guy, and he works his tail off.” Antoine, who walked on the football team at Fort Scott Community College (Kan.) before heading to OSU, remains somewhat in awe of life in the U.S. The 6-foot-1, 215-pounder mentions all the paved roads and the constant availability of food. OSU coaches said Antoine is unequivocally appreciative of the things he is given. "I think he’s just enamored by how well they’re treated here,” DeForest said. "Three square meals, and they get new shoes every other day, it seems like. He never had all that. The amount of clothes and apparel our athletes get would probably cloth his family for a year. So he’s very, very appreciative.”
Orange-White spring game→When: 6 p.m. Saturday →Where: Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater →Admission: Free. All seating will be on the south side of the stadium, as will all stadium entry and exit.