Greg Smith and Britt Mitchell have been able to bounce back and forth between tight end and the offensive line thanks to their footwork and size. Aaron Lewis and Lamarr Houston have shifted down to defensive tackle to better utilize their speed and explosiveness off of the ball. Ahmard Howard, in just his second year in the program, has had to learn the tricks of the trade on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
Their versatility shows first hand why Nehemiah Hicks could be a valued piece of Texas' 2010 recruiting class.
Playing his high school football not too far from Austin in rapidly growing Hutto, Hicks is blessed with the blend of size (6-foot-5, 213 pounds), speed (4.76 in the 40) and athleticism that the Longhorn coaching staff has come to covet from their big men.
Hicks impressed on the summer camp circuit as his explosiveness and physical gifts, leading some to believe he will be a defensive end in college. But he also has a strong grasp on how to get things done on the offensive side of the ball. Four of his nine catches as a sophomore in 2007 went for touchdowns and his 165 receiving yards also helped him earn Offensive Newcomer of the Year honors in District 18-3A.
Regardless of where people might want to slot him, Hicks is uncertain as to what position he wants to play at the next level, but he already has a general idea.
"I'm not too sure," Hicks said. "I play both ways anyway. I'd like to stay at tight end just because I like getting my hands on the ball."
Getting touches does not happen too often for Hicks in Hutto's run-oriented offense, which has thrived this season behind senior running back Devin Carver's 1,103 yards and 12 touchdowns in seven games. Carver, who missed half of last season with a collarbone injury, has been the focal point of the Hippos' offense and has caused Hicks' touches to drop this season, but Hicks has managed to make his presence felt in a big way as a junior in 2008. All three of his catches this season have resulted in touchdowns.
Whether Hicks gets offered remains to be seen, but the Longhorn staff has taken notice of his talent as Hicks was invited to and attended Texas' 56-31 victory over Missouri this past Saturday.
"I liked the way (Texas' offense) moved the ball and I liked the way the D stepped up," Hicks said. "I like how their offense is making big plays. The defense is really good, especially the defensive line."
Hicks does have somewhat of a connection with TCU as Jeremy Kerley, who quarterbacked Hutto to the Class 3A state semifinals in 2005, has been one of the biggest offensive contributors for the Horned Frogs this season. Seeing Kerley have success at the Division I level gives Hicks reassurance that he can make it to the next level.
"It's nice being able to see someone that came from where you come from," Hicks said. "It shows that you can go onto the Division I level and make it big."
Hicks and his Hutto teammates have a huge test in front of them this Saturday as the Hippos will visit Killeen High in a game that will likely decide who claims the fourth playoff spot in District 25-4A. For Hutto, in their first year as a Class 4A school, making the playoffs would be huge, and Hicks says that the Hippos are up for the challenge.
"We feel really good about our chances," Hicks said. "We're feeling confident. We've gotten a good look at them on film and we are ready."
With the game being on Saturday Hicks will not be able to attend the 2:30 p.m. showdown between the No. 1 ranked Longhorns and No. 6 Oklahoma State in Austin, but Hicks says he has already made arrangements to attend Texas' home finale on Nov. 27 against Texas A&M.