Underrated Hicks Emerging as a Star DB

Illini football fans know the big names on the team, the players who get all the publicity and attention. But a successful team always has players who play important roles but who are overlooked and underappreciated. No one fits that description better at Illinois than Dere Hicks.

The 5'-10"-180 pound cornerback plays opposite Preseason First Team All-American Vontae Davis. But there were times last year when opponents preferred to pass to Davis' side and avoid Hicks. And more than once, in games and scrimmages, larger teammates got credit for tackles when, underneath the pile, Dere was holding securely to a player's ankles.

Fortunately, team results are more important to Dere than individual accolades.

"I'm a true team player, so I don't have to have publicity. I don't want all the credit or anything, I just show up to work every day and play hard every day."

Following a redshirt year, the Roanoke, Virginia, native earned playing time and started against Ohio State. He credits the upperclassmen on the team at the time for helping him learn the position after playing quarterback in prep school.

"I learned a lot from Alan (Ball) and Shariff (Abdullah) my first year."

Hicks started every game in 2007 and recorded 52 tackles, but he wasn't playing with confidence yet.

"Last year, I got my feet wet, but I tried not to get beat."

This season, Dere is looking forward to major improvement in his performance.

"Last year I really experienced the games, so I think it's helped me alot. I'm a better player, more studying, being technique sound. I have a year under my belt. This year I know I can give it my all. This year, I feel like I can play."

Spring practices also helped his confidence. His growth this spring gave him even more belief in his abilities, especially the Lemont scrimmage when he intercepted two passes and almost caught two others.

"Yeah, I think it did a lot. I didn't get to work on technique last spring (he was tested at receiver), so this spring I got to work on technique. Now I'm very confident in my technique."

As all good defensive backs must, Dere doesn't rest on his laurels when teams throw away from him. He knows that may be temporary.

"When they throw the opposite way, they say to always be ready. Because when it comes, if it's gonna rain it's gonna pour."

Dere Hicks is typical of Coach Ron Zook's players. He trusted his future coach and his dream for Illinois.

"When I came here, I knew the sky was the limit. I believed in Coach Zook and his program. He sold me when he said the program was on the rise, and I wanted to come here and help a program on the rise."

Now that he is an upperclassman, Dere is helping teach the rookies so they can help in the future. He likes what he sees from the newcomers.

"They're coming along pretty well. Tavon (Wilson) is really grasping things, I think he's gonna do well. Ashante (Williams) was here in the spring, so he got a little edge on them with technique and things. Coach Zook is an awfully good recruiter, he recruits good athletes to come in here."

Last season ended on a sour note when the Illini lost to a dominant team from USC. But that game has served as motivation for this year.

"We lost the Rose Bowl, but at least we got there. I hope we can get that chance this year. We should come out with a terrific year this year."

Hicks was one of those excited when the Illini finally donned full pads and began hitting at Camp Rantoul. His attitude will serve him well during the highly competitive season ahead.

"I love to rumble."

Illini Inquirer Top Stories