In the last Rebel scrimmage, redshirt freshman Wide Receiver Michael Hicks seemed to be everywhere the ball was.
The 6-3, 215-pounder, who looks more like a budding linebacker than a wide receiver, started, as he said, "getting it."
"I used to think all a wide receiver did was run a route and catch the ball, but there's way more to it than that," said Hicks, who seems almost shy in interviews but has a more gregarious personality on the field. "It's been a hard transition to wide receiver, but I can feel myself getting it now."
The results of last week's scrimmage, when Michael was catching everything in sight, got a quip from Rebel Coach Ed Orgeron.
"I asked him where he'd been," O laughed. "That's the kind of improvement and production we need to see out there."
It's no secret the Rebel wide receivers, as a unit, have little game experience. Wide Receivers Coach Matt Lubick is frantically trying to develop a bunch of guys who have never played much on this level, if at all.
"Last year, we had a bunch of guys who had been there and done that, but this year we are all kind of rookies," Hicks continued. "The younger guys are leaning on Carlos (Suggs) really hard and he's being a good leader, but he's still learning himself in a lot of ways."
Hicks said the precision and adjustments made on the fly are the key to being a competent wide receiver on this level.
"You can't just run by defenders. Everyone is big, fast and strong on this level. You have to run perfect routes, you have to come out of breaks full speed, you have to get off press coverage against guys who are as fast or faster than you, you have to read coverages in the middle of routes and know how to adjust your routes on the fly and you have to be able to block fast guys trying to get to the ball in the open field," Michael explained. "None of that is easy. I didn't expect it to be, but I think the difficulty of the position took me by surprise a little."
Hicks believes he has an advantage in one respect due to his size.
"I'm bigger than most corners, so they can't manhandle me. I'm a pretty good blocker because I have the size advantage and I'm learning more and more how to use my size in terms of getting off press coverage and getting my body between me and the defender," he continued. "I am also able to go up over defenders on high passes. I have an advantage because I have a good vertical leap and my arms are longer than most of those guys."
What does Michael like about playing wideout? Simple.
"I like getting the ball in my hands. In high school, I was a quarterback and had the ball every play," he explained. "I got used to it. I like getting the ball and trying to make people miss me."
Hicks had to learn patience last year when he was shifted around to two or three positions and even played some scout team quarterback during his redshirt year.
"I figured out early in the season that I would probably redshirt. You have to stay patient or the redshirt year will get to you mentally," he said. "I just stayed humble, did what the coaches told me to do and worked on my practice intensity. I had some fun weeks when I was running the scout team offense and then when I was moved to wide receiver that was fun because I was learning something new."
After a solid offseason where he gained some needed strength, and a spring where he's started producing at his relatively new position, Hicks' confidence is gaining.
"I feel like wide receiver is where I belong. I'm getting more and more confidence the more I learn," Hicks noted. "You have to have a certain level of athletic ability to play on this level - everyone does, but what separates the really good players is your knowledge of the game and your position. Players who know what to do and don't have to think about it are the ones who succeed. I'm definitely smarter now than when I came in here almost a year ago."
His goal for 2006 is easy to figure out. PT. Playing time.
"I'm still young, but there's an opportunity for younger wide receivers to play. I want to keep developing so I can get a bigger role on this team and try to prove myself in games," he closed. "That's my goal. What evolves from that will be up to me."
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