Nicks: Sophomore Sensation

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Plenty of football players claim that they want the prime time spotlight. Hakeem Nicks proved it in South Bend last November, pulling in six catches for 171 yards and two touchdowns against the Fighting Irish in a nationally televised game on NBC. The Charlotte, N.C. native is ready to put up even better numbers this fall.

"I get jacked up for every game, but there was something about that game," Nicks said. "I knew it was national [television], and that was my chance to really get my name out there, so I just took it as an opportunity to do great things."

Nicks is the Atlantic Coast Conference's top returning wide receiver, after setting North Carolina freshman records with 39 receptions and 660 yards in 2006. The 6-foot-1, 215-pounder knows that opposing defenses will be keying on him this season, and he believes that will only play into coordinator John Shoop's offensive plans.

"I know that when we play and people try to double cover me that we have Brooks Foster, we have Brandon Tate, we have Joe Dailey [and] Kenton Thornton – we have all kinds of weapons," Nicks said. "So it's not necessarily about getting the ball to me. We have great weapons that we feel we can use all over the offense."

Shoop's offense is much more complex than his predecessor Frank Cignetti's schemes, with various shifts and formations.

"It's different because you never know what to expect," Nicks said. "We make the same things look different, and different things look the same. That's our motto. Sometimes we don't know what to expect, so I know the defense doesn't."

Despite his gaudy freshman stats, Nicks is all about his team and their success. He made numerous circus catches last fall, including a one-handed 40-yard grab against Furman, but when asked about his strengths at wide receiver, he points to the grunt work.

"I feel like I block very [well] downfield," Nicks said. "The running backs trust me – when they hit the outside, they know that I'll have their block."

Once the 2006 season concluded in lat November, Nicks took it upon himself to improve in a variety of areas during the offseason, including his speed, endurance, route running and overall knowledge of the game. His teammates refer to him as the "strong" receiver, which is a testament to his work ethic.

"I feel like I come in and work hard in the weight room, just like I work on the field and in the film room," Nicks said.

Nicks may divert attention to his counterparts at wideout during training camp, but it's a safe bet that his name will be written in big bold letters on opponents' chalkboards under "Keys to the Game" this coming season.

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