Picking up the pieces

When a team struggles down the stretch as the Cal football team did this season, everybody struggles for explanations. While players and coaches refused to get baited into blaming others, there are some players willing to take a more introspective view; who can assess their season objectively, understand that it fell short of expectations, and look ahead to what needs to improve.

Safety Bernard Hicks will be the first to tell you that he's disappointed with his year.  He entered the season as the team's starting rover back but saw his playing time shrink with the emergence of sophomore Marcus Ezeff.  When Ezeff suffered an injury that sidelined him for much of the second half of the season, Hicks' playing time increased.  Yet as the team lost six of its final seven games, all by close margins, afterwards, players could second guess themselves on every turnover, every penalty, every missed tackle, and every miscommunication on a play that could have potentially changed the game.

Hicks was no different.

"Overall, honestly, I think I can bring more to the table," said Hicks, who concluded the regular season with 37 tackles, 2 1/2 tackles for loss, and the interception that he had during the Big Game. "Right now, I'm doing just enough. But I need to do more than just enough. I need to open it up overall, I need to contribute more, make more plays, and make bigger plays. I need to stop trying to do too much and stay on my assignments. I need to be a playmaker, and get after it."

For the 6-foot junior from Fresno's Edison High, the challenges that he faces are similar to what other college players have to go through. Without being able to rely solely upon athleticism, they have to learn defenses, learn how to read formations, and flow to the football.  No matter how much a play understands his responsibilities, the ability to translate that knowledge into instincts and react quicker can mean the difference between  a one-yard gain and a nine-yard gain.

"I don't feel like I'm out of position," said Hicks.  "The play at strong safety is more detailed than it is at free safety, I just have to not get too caught up in the details. On some plays, I could have reacted faster, and on others,   I could have made a play here or made a pick there. There were some plays where early on I thought I was cool, but then I tried to do too much, or I ended up roaming. But there's no excuses, I have to make plays."

One of Hicks' roughest games was the Washington State game, where Cougar wide receiver Brandon Gibson withstood Hicks' attempt to make a big hit and end up racing downfield for a 60-yard gain. Later that game, he allowed a Gibson to get past him for a 55-yard gain, and that drive finished with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Alex Brink to Charles Dillon.

Yet in talking about this, Hicks is neither downcast nor beaten.  He understands that in football that players are always evolving and to get better, it's essential to understand what you need to improve upon. 

"Compared to past years, the games are getting easier," said Hicks who had 58 tackles and two interceptions last year as a sophomore.  "I know the defense better than I did last year; the problem is overthinking things.  It's at the point where it has nothing to do with ability, so much as it does paying attention to detail.   But with whatever goes on in a game, you can't ever get too low.  You've got to keep working on trying to develop that knack and improving your instincts"

Even as the team's encountered difficulties, he hasn't sensed the team losing any of its enthusiasm.

"I feel like there's been energy in every game," said Hicks. "Everybody has a lot of energy on the field. We're all talking to each other in the huddle and trying to keep everybody else focused on what we have to do."

The nature of football is such is sometimes it just takes a very small miscue to cause problems for a defense.  A defense can play well for most of a half or even most of a game, all it takes is a minor breakdown and an opportunistic offense will pounce all over it.

"Even in halves where things haven't gone well, it all comes down to knowing the details of our assignments," said Hicks, who's majoring in African-American Studies.  "In the second half against Arizona State, there was a little assignment gap, and that one gap opened up the whole the defense. You can have 10 guys on the field who get their assignments down, and if you've got one who's not there, the offense is going to find a way through it.  But as a defense, we all take responsibility for that."

While it's critical to understand where a breakdown takes place, it also takes a degree of maturity for a unit to learn from it and help each other to see that it doesn't happen again, and not let a situation devolve to point of fingerpointing and assigning blame.

"Our character's too strong (to get down) for that. Somebody might have missed an assignment but we win together and we lose together.  You never point out a guy. Coach (Jeff) Tedford does a great job of keeping us focused.," said Hicks, who in his spare time plays video games, and watches movies ("American Gangster was really interesting. If you've got time on  your hands, I'd recommend that you go see it.")

Although there might be an external perception is that the team is hopelessly mired in the doldrums and might be struggling with motivation going into the tail end of the season, Hicks promises that isn't the case and that regardless of what lies ahead on the schedule, opportunities await.

"We've got a lot of football left  Even if it's just one more game the whole mentality is that even if you lose a game, you never let it get the best of you.   There's always tomorrow, there's always another practice, there's always another game, and a chance to hit some people. As a defense, we feel like we're headed in the right direction."


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If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this online community and get access to the members-only content from the nationwide Insiders network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.


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Safety Bernard Hicks will be the first to tell you that he's disappointed with his year.  He entered the season as the team's starting rover back but saw his playing time shrink with the emergence of sophomore Marcus Ezeff.  When Ezeff suffered an injury that sidelined him for much of the second half of the season, Hicks' playing time increased.  Yet as the team lost six of its final seven games, all by close margins, afterwards, players could second guess themselves on every turnover, every penalty, every missed tackle, and every miscommunication on a play that could have potentially changed the game.

Hicks was no different.

"Overall, honestly, I think I can bring more to the table," said Hicks, who concluded the regular season with 37 tackles, 2 1/2 tackles for loss, and the interception that he had during the Big Game. "Right now, I'm doing just enough. But I need to do more than just enough. I need to open it up overall, I need to contribute more, make more plays, and make bigger plays. I need to stop trying to do too much and stay on my assignments. I need to be a playmaker, and get after it."

For the 6-foot junior from Fresno's Edison High, the challenges that he faces are similar to what other college players have to go through. Without being able to rely solely upon athleticism, they have to learn defenses, learn how to read formations, and flow to the football.  No matter how much a play understands his responsibilities, the ability to translate that knowledge into instincts and react quicker can mean the difference between  a one-yard gain and a nine-yard gain.

"I don't feel like I'm out of position," said Hicks.  "The play at strong safety is more detailed than it is at free safety, I just have to not get too caught up in the details. On some plays, I could have reacted faster, and on others,   I could have made a play here or made a pick there. There were some plays where early on I thought I was cool, but then I tried to do too much, or I ended up roaming. But there's no excuses, I have to make plays."

One of Hicks' roughest games was the Washington State game, where Cougar wide receiver Brandon Gibson withstood Hicks' attempt to make a big hit and end up racing downfield for a 60-yard gain. Later that game, he allowed a Gibson to get past him for a 55-yard gain, and that drive finished with an 18-yard touchdown pass from Alex Brink to Charles Dillon.

Yet in talking about this, Hicks is neither downcast nor beaten.  He understands that in football that players are always evolving and to get better, it's essential to understand what you need to improve upon. 

"Compared to past years, the games are getting easier," said Hicks who had 58 tackles and two interceptions last year as a sophomore.  "I know the defense better than I did last year; the problem is overthinking things.  It's at the point where it has nothing to do with ability, so much as it does paying attention to detail.   But with whatever goes on in a game, you can't ever get too low.  You've got to keep working on trying to develop that knack and improving your instincts"

Even as the team's encountered difficulties, he hasn't sensed the team losing any of its enthusiasm.

"I feel like there's been energy in every game," said Hicks. "Everybody has a lot of energy on the field. We're all talking to each other in the huddle and trying to keep everybody else focused on what we have to do."

The nature of football is such is sometimes it just takes a very small miscue to cause problems for a defense.  A defense can play well for most of a half or even most of a game, all it takes is a minor breakdown and an opportunistic offense will pounce all over it.

"Even in halves where things haven't gone well, it all comes down to knowing the details of our assignments," said Hicks, who's majoring in African-American Studies.  "In the second half against Arizona State, there was a little assignment gap, and that one gap opened up the whole the defense. You can have 10 guys on the field who get their assignments down, and if you've got one who's not there, the offense is going to find a way through it.  But as a defense, we all take responsibility for that."

While it's critical to understand where a breakdown takes place, it also takes a degree of maturity for a unit to learn from it and help each other to see that it doesn't happen again, and not let a situation devolve to point of fingerpointing and assigning blame.

"Our character's too strong (to get down) for that. Somebody might have missed an assignment but we win together and we lose together.  You never point out a guy. Coach (Jeff) Tedford does a great job of keeping us focused.," said Hicks, who in his spare time plays video games, and watches movies ("American Gangster was really interesting. If you've got time on  your hands, I'd recommend that you go see it.")

Although there might be an external perception is that the team is hopelessly mired in the doldrums and might be struggling with motivation going into the tail end of the season, Hicks promises that isn't the case and that regardless of what lies ahead on the schedule, opportunities await.

"We've got a lot of football left  Even if it's just one more game the whole mentality is that even if you lose a game, you never let it get the best of you.   There's always tomorrow, there's always another practice, there's always another game, and a chance to hit some people. As a defense, we feel like we're headed in the right direction."

©Copyright 2007, TheBearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this online community and get access to the members-only content from the nationwide Insiders network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.

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