Football player finds heroes in comics and in family

 

Freshman offensive lineman Austen Pleasants poses for a portrait in Peden Stadium on September 21, 2016.

 

Austen Pleasants’ bedroom resembles a comic convention more than the average college football offensive lineman’s might.

A Connor Kenway action figure hangs on the wall, along with other action figures from the Assassin’s Creed video game franchise.

On one shelf, there are multiple “Star Wars” action figures and a Mr. Incredible figure. Another shelf houses Darth Vader, a Stormtrooper, C-3PO and the Millennium Falcon.

Marvel characters such as Iron Man and Captain America rule one area, with an Iron Man comic book featured on the wall.

But one action figure stands out from the rest.

It’s an action figure from the Predator movie franchise. In fact, it’s the creepy-looking creature itself. The action figure’s features are intricate, with its reptilian physique making it look like a squid crossed with an alien.

Pleasants, a redshirt freshman offensive lineman for Ohio, has collected comic books and action figures since he was about 13 years old, and it’s a hobby that he’s used as an outlet in addition to playing football.

“The detail of it — it’s pretty wicked,” Pleasants said of the Predator action figure.

Pleasants’ stepfather, Michael Wilburn, helped him become interested in collecting comic books. Wilburn has collected comic books since he was 13 years old, too, so talking about comics was a way for the two to bond but as he came into Pleasants’ life.

The pair have gone to the Tri-State Comic Con in Huntington, West Virginia, also known as Tri-Con, for the past two years — though Pleasants said the tradition started three or four years ago.

“As much time as I get to spend with him, I do,” Pleasants said. “He’s a very important figure in my life. He’s taught me a lot, and I like to share that time with him.”

Wilburn saw that Pleasants was interested in “Star Wars: The Original Trilogy,” one of the most recognizable movie franchises of all time. He taught him how to grade action figures’ conditions, telling Pleasants he could garner a pretty penny for mint condition action figures.

“He kind of took over from there, and he’s got a nice little collection going,”  Wilburn said. Pleasants has more than a nice little collection, though. Wilburn says Pleasants has three totes of comic books and action figures, along with the many items still in their boxes that hang on the walls of his room.

Like any other child, Pleasants was drawn to comic books because of how dominant characters such as Captain America, Iron Man and Spider-Man appear in the eye catching books.

“You don’t think something like that would really move somebody as much as it could,” Pleasants said of comic books. “A lot of that stuff inspires a lot of people. They strive to be like those characters in the books that you see on movies.”

Pleasants was one of many children who were inspired by the comic book characters. He wanted to be big and strong, similar to Thor, a Marvel character who appears in the “Avengers” comic books and movies.

The fictional characters weren’t just supposed to be authoritative figures for children to admire, though.

As Pleasants got older, though, he realized comic books were about more than men and women doing superhuman things.

Smaller action figures and military vehicles as seen in Pleasants’ room.

The characters depicted in the comic books could be seen as role models not only for their abilities, but because of their sense of right and wrong.“(The comic books) made me understand a lot of things about the world,” Pleasants said.

Pleasants learned what it meant to do the right thing at an early age — and that gives meaning to some of his childhood nicknames.

Pleasants, standing at 6-foot-7 and 321 pounds, was always one of the bigger kids in school. His mother, Jennifer Pleasants, didn’t want him hurting any of the smaller kids but it wasn’t in Pleasants’ nature to be mean, anyway.

“His nickname was always ‘Big Teddy Bear,’ ” Jennifer Pleasants said. “He’s always been a very affectionate, mannerly, polite kid.”

Austen acquired another nickname as a child for a couple different reasons — neither of which were because of his kind nature.

When he played little league football in third grade, the team’s coach didn’t know what his name was, so he started to call him “Big Red.”

Pleasants’ hair is red, so that’s one reason why most people in Ironton, his hometown, call him “Big Red.” But he is also called that because his face turns the color when he runs or is nervous.

“He kind of has that complexion when he gets embarrassed, you know he gets beet red,” Ohio offensive line coach Dave Johnson said. “Or when he exercises, you know the people who really kind of get red?”

Pleasants’ face turns red when he sweats, with his hard work giving him an opportunity to get onto the field. He was redshirted last season, but the young offensive lineman saw time on the field during Ohio’s game at No. 15 Tennessee.

“Obviously he’s still in a learning phase, learning mode,” Johnson said. “Every day I think he discovers something new. He does a nice job of studying the older guys and seeing what they do right and wrong.”

Anyone can collect comic books — which are fun to look at, and it’s something people can say they do as a hobby.

But not everyone can talk about comic books like Pleasants talks about them.

Pleasants knows his comic book material like an honors student might know each event that happened during World War II.

For example, he said he would like to see the extended edition of Suicide Squad.

“I knew there (were) a lot of good scenes cut out of it with the Joker and everything,” Pleasants said.

The Joker is one of the craziest characters in all of comic books, Pleasants said, as actors such as the late Heath Ledger as well as Jared Leto have portrayed the bizarre character in The Dark Knight and Suicide Squad, respectively.

Darth Vader and other action figures stand on shelves in Pleasants’ room.

With Pleasants being drawn to the Joker’s craziness, he said he is also a Deadpool fan. Deadpool isn’t necessarily crazy like the Joker – but he is perhaps the wackiest character in comic books.

“The character is just very spontaneous, so he’s known for just doing pretty much anything and everything you can think of,” Pleasants said.

Darth Vader stands atop a bookcase in Pleasants’ room — a rightful place for such a ruthless character. A mini Yoda figure stands below him, and for what it’s worth, Yoda appears to be terrified standing next to the iconic character.

Pleasants has a mint condition late ‘70s vintage Darth Vader, and it’s one of his prized possessions. Vintage Darth Vader action figures from that period are going for as much as $550 on eBay.

What characters such as Darth Vader represent and command — power, authority, respect — is what drew Pleasants to them in the first place.

He wants to do what’s right, just like the characters do in the comics.

“You can focus on these characters and see what the characters do and how they handle situations,” Pleasants said. “And it gives you a different perspective on life and society.”

 

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