Hawaii landed the commitment of Las Vegas (Nevada) Bishop Gorman three-star outside linebacker Ikem Okeke in the 2016 class - after signing day UH earned a pledge from one of his teammates, Kalen Hicks.
Hicks was expected to be one of the many talents at Bishop Gorman, a Las Vegas prep powerhouse, to be pursued by colleges. He showed his talents at camps and in practice, but unfortunately his chances to impress on Fridays abruptly limited.
As a junior he saw some playing time, but BGHS had Nicco Fertitta, now at Notre Dame, ahead of him in the secondary. His senior year he was primed to break out as he earned the starting strong safety spot, but an injury ended his season before it started.
“I was getting bigger, I worked hard and I got a starting position,” Hicks said. “A lot of schools were waiting to see how I did just in the first game. They said if you do good the first game you should be getting some offers and that I was a good D-I prospect coming out of spring ball. Then a week before the game we had a scrimmage and I tore my ACL.”
Though an opportunity to earn a scholarship had been taken away, Hicks had coaches and teammates give colleges their word on Hicks’s abilities.
“When I got my surgery a lot of schools backed off on me, but my coaches were trying to help me get an offer," Hicks said. "Schools still knew about me but they wanted to see if I was healthy. One of my coaches is an alumni of Hawaii - he asked me if I was interested in Hawaii because he knew the coaches up there.”
Okeke said of Hicks, “Kalen would've had great season and really blown up if he could've played but with the minimal film from his junior year due to being the backup to Notre Dame's Nicco Fertitta and the torn ACL before the season started I think schools gave up on him. When I went to Hawaii I pushed for them to give him a shot because I know what he can do and know he's been working hard to be better than before. He's going to come into Hawaii and make a big impact and I think he's going to come in hungry with something to prove to the doubters.”
Hicks got in contact with Hawaii coaches and the two parties found a fit.
“They said one of their weakest points for depth was their defensive backs," Hicks said. "They said I could possibly come in and compete for a spot in the rotation if I work hard for it. I just got cleared so I'm fully ready to go and my knee is feeling really good I've been getting bigger and stronger. I'm 6-foot-3 and 200 lbs so hopefully I can just go up there try to get a starting spot as a freshman.”
With that in mind, Hicks gave his pledge to walk-on at UH. He is excited to team up with Okeke at the next level.
“He knows what I can do and he's a good teammate,” Hicks said of Okeke. “He's like my brother. We've known each other since middle school. He said, ‘I know what you can do. Me and you could probably become starters out there and make a bridge for other recruiting from Bishop Gorman to Hawaii.’”
Of his game on the field when healthy, Hicks said, “I think some of my strengths are that I'm a good all-around DB. Now that I have played cornerback and safety I can move a lot as a DB and since I got bigger I can attack the pass too. I'm good at run support as a safety, good contain; we do a lot of zone coverage so that really helps with my zone coverage. In man coverage I'm really good at the press. I'm a lengthy DB so I'm good on the line.
“I have got a lot to prove and I feel like I'm a very slept on player.”
In the classroom, Hicks is undecided on a major, but is considering business management.
“I know it's a big move and it's far from home, that’s what my parents keep on telling me,” Hicks said. “Hopefully I get that scholarship soon so it's all free in the end.”
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