CHICAGO — Mike Lucas won't be defined by the worst mistake of his life.
The Ohio University senior offensive lineman and Saint Patrick High School graduate is making the most of his second chance after he was suspended from the team for punching a student in October 2012.
Lucas pleaded no contest in February 2013 and had a potential 90-day jail sentence dismissed. He came back to the Bobcats, who play in Saturday's Camellia Bowl against Appalachian State in Montgomery, Ala., and has been a model citizen and standout player since.
"Probably my low point in college, and I felt like I made a major mistake," said Lucas, noting he's never previously talked to the media about the suspension. "I let my team down, I let St. Pat's down. I couldn't believe I got into a fight with [another student].
"It's just amazing that the coaches believed in me, and that one mistake does not define who you are as a person."
Lucas said he was most hurt when his parents — Teresa, a teacher at Courtenay Elementary, and Keith, who handles baggage for United Airlines at O'Hare Airport — told him they were disappointed. He heeded the advice from his father, who said "the only time you make a mistake is when you don't learn from it."
While he was suspended, Lucas, of Edgewater, also turned to his former coaches at Saint Patrick. That included head coach Dan Galante, who encouraged Lucas to focus on becoming a better man in the future.
"Like anyone, young men will make mistakes in high school and college, and we believe it is not how you fall, but that the fact that you will rise up and move forward. We encouraged Mike to do the same in college," Galante said.
"I'm very proud of him and the fact that he has overcome adversity. To me that is the great lesson that the game teaches. He will graduate from college and hopefully get a chance to play at the next level."
Lucas has started almost every game in the three years since his suspension. The 6-foot-4-inch, 313-pound left guard has an outside shot of playing pro football. Ohio offensive coordinator Tim Albin said Lucas "has been a consistent contributor to our offensive line and an excellent mentor to the underclassmen.
"We always know what Mike is going to bring, and we've have come to rely on him and our entire senior group to anchor our o-line," Albin said.
Lucas also been inspired by the story of fellow North Sider Laken Tomlinson, the Lane Tech graduate who was drafted in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Detroit Lions.
"He's from around the same neighborhood as me, and he was able to do it," Lucas said.
Lucas visits ill children in hospitals near the Athens, Ohio campus. He also talks to the special education students his mom teaches at Courtenay. Outside of football, a role model is his sister, Alysa, a 2013 Tuskegee University graduate who's now an occupational therapist in Chicago.
Lucas said "you'll never see me act same way again," referring to the fight.
"You never know what you have until it's taken away," Lucas said. "I'm living the dream playing Division I football."
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: