Last fall, Michael Hicks was going about his business as a talented future safety on defense in his first collegiate season.
Everything was fine with him.
"I was recruited as a safety, so I was pretty happy," said the Jacksonville, FL native. "I was starting to learn some things and was feeling like I had a future there."
But one day he showed up to practice and was told to change jersey colors, "you are moving to wide receiver to see what you can do there."
Hicks didn't think much of it. Earlier in the season, he had been tried at tight end, but that didn't stick.
"I knew the offense was short of bodies for the scout team. I wasn't going to play defense last year anyway, so I thought it would be fun," he explained.
Things evolved quickly.
Hicks showed a natural knack for wideout and then, later in the year, he even played some scout team QB.
"I played quarterback all through high school. I enjoyed playing wide receiver because I was able to get the ball back in my hands and it felt good," Hicks stated.
Nobody knew if the switch would stand or not, but everyone knew the wide receiver slots needed future help due to Mike Espy, Mario Hill, Taye Biddle and Larry Kendrick all graduating in 2005.
"Right after the season was over, (WR) Coach (Matt) Lubick came to me and said I'd be playing wide receiver in spring," said Michael. "Because of the opportunity to play and the inexperience of the guys returning, I felt that might be my best chance to get on the field in 2006."
Michael thinks he fits the position, but he understands it's different than playing wide receiver on the high school level.
"In high school, most of the time a wide receiver just runs a particular route," he explained. "In college, you adjust your routes on the fly based on what the secondary does. It sounds easy, but there are a lot of little things you have to recognize and learn.
"There's also the matter of picking up the little tricks of the trade. You can't give anything away with your eyes to a corner. They can pick up on your routes by the way you look down the field. You have to take precise steps and you have to count steps in certain routes. Your routes have to be perfect on this level. Your breaks have to mean something and be disguised and effective. The smallest things you wouldn't think matter do matter. They are the difference in success and failure. That was the hardest thing for me to learn and get into my head. You watch a game and say 'that's an out route.' Sure, but there is so much that goes into that out route. It's not that complicated, and I don't want to make it sound like it is, but it is precise and exact."
Hicks feels he has the tools necessary to conquer and master the position, in time.
"I will be a big receiver," said the 6-3, 212-pounder. "I have good (4.5 40) speed and quickness and I am very confident in my hands. My hand-eye coordination has always been pretty good and my anticipation of playing a thrown ball is kind of natural. I can adjust well to passes in the air.
"I can always get better in all those areas, but I'm comfortable in my starting point."
Hicks showed last fall that his size was an asset. He was able to overpower some of the Rebel regulars when he went up for a pass in practice last fall.
"I can out-jump a lot of DBs because I'm three or four inches taller than a lot of them and I have three or four inches in reach on them as well," he noted.
This spring, Michael goal is to learn as much as he can about being a wide receiver.
"I know I have the physical tools to play the positions, but I don't have the knowledge I need. That is what spring will be for," he stated. "We are a very young receiving corps, so we will all be learning together. That's a challenge for us because we really don't have any built-in leaders there like they did last year.
"On the positive side, there are a lot of opportunities for all of us. Whoever makes plays and learns the quickest will have an advantage when spring rolls around."
Ideally, Hicks would like to leave spring as one of the top receivers heading into fall, but he'd also like to emerge as one of the leaders.
"Since we don't have any established leaders, it would be nice to earn that. We are all kind of young and inexperienced, so whoever steps up and make plays will get that kind of respect. That's my goal for spring," he closed.
With Hicks' athletic ability and understanding of what he has to do to reach that level, don't bet against him. You just might lose.
Hicks likes WR
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