Let's start from the beginning. Tell us your route to get to UCLA?
"Ah, the route. I went to St. Mary's High in Phoenix. After high school, and not being as heavily recruited as I wanted to be...basically no one offered me. I was about 6-0 and 230 and played d-end. They didn't show much interest in an end who was 6-1 and 230. So I went to Glendale Community College, which was right down the street from my house. After that I got four offers after the first fall semester of football season. I got offered by UCLA, Oregon, ASU and Washington State. I took my trips to those four schools and decided to come here."
You grew a little then, huh?
"I grew an inch and gained about 30 pounds."
Do you generally have some big guys in your family?
"Yeah. It wasn't unusual in my family to get bigger. My dad is about 6-4. I'm one of the smaller guys in the family. Most are taller than me. I wouldn't mind getting another inch or two. We'll see how that goes."
You came here with four years to play three, with a redshirt year available. Were you prepared to play?
"I didn't think redshirt at all. I knew they had lost their five top defensive linemen. And I knew I had a chance to come in here and take a spot."
How comfortable are you at the position?
"I feel great with the position right now. No problem. I just have to get the technique down that Coach (Don) Johnson is teaching us, go from there and execute on Saturdays."
So you're good with the playbook?
"I think I'm perfect on everything right now."
What do you think you have to work on?
"Coach Johnson says I need to see the hands of the offensive linemen on pass rush. I have to work on getting off the ball and taking proper steps."
How is the defensive line doing with cohesion, all being new?
"We are kind of young and haven't been together but I think we've done a good job learning the system. I think all it takes now is executing it on Saturdays, getting out on the field and showing what we can do."
At this point, defensive tackle Kevin Brown, who plays alongside Hickman, came up and interrupted the interview.
So how do you like playing alongside guys like Kevin Brown?
"I love Bear. Kevin Brown, alias Bear, he's my man. He's probably my favorite person on the defensive line. And that's not alienating anyone else on the line. Bear and I have this special connection. We line up next to each other."
Brown: "We have that communication."
Do you not even have to communicate, just know what the other is going to do?
"No, not yet, not yet. Give us mid-year."
Brown: "We have a few more years together. It will only get better."
"Right, we have a few years playing next to each other."
Between pass rush and run defense, what do you think you have to work on most?
"I think I need to work on both. On everything. I don't see myself having a preference, or being better at one or the other. I think I need to work equally on each."
Do you think you're a pretty good pass rusher?
"I think I'm pretty good, but Coach Johnson might say otherwise. I think I have to work on some things."
Do you consider run defense a strength?
"I wouldn't say it's a strength or a weakness. I just go out there and do what I can."
How is it going to feel walking out on the Rose Bowl and possibly starting?
"It's a dream come true. That's all I can say about that. My parents are trying to come to every game, and a lot of family and friends are trying to get tickets to every game. We can't get enough tickets. They keep asking. I keep telling them I don't think I can get everyone tickets. They might have to go buy some."
How good is this defense going to be?
"You heard my man, Bear. Excellent."
Going up against the offense every day, what are your impressions?
"They're going to be potent. Defenses in the Pac-10 need to be aware. Just from watching and from what I've heard on the offensive line last year, Coach (Tom) Cable is doing a really good job with the offensive line, and the OL is doing really well. From what I've seen from spring to this camp, they're doing really well. We have some great receivers in Craig Bragg, Junior Taylor and Joe Cowan, and with the addition of Tab Perry coming back and Marcedes Lewis, who is an excellent plus as a receiving tight end. I don't think you can defend a good receiving tight end, someone like Marcedes who is fast enough to not be covered by linebackers but big enough not to be stopped by corners. And we have a good running game with Maurice Drew, the Bowling Ball, which is what I call him. He's 5-8 and 210, and runs that 4.3. He's a tough guy to tackle. So with him with the speed and then bring in Manuel White, with the power, they're going to be nice."
How comfortable are you with zone blitzing where you have to drop back into coverage? Did you have that at Glendale?
"We had that call at Glendale, but I think we ran it maybe once the whole year. It's new and I have to get used to it. Now I have to go out and do it on Saturdays. I know I can do it here in practice, but practice and games are a totally different thing."
Are you the type that gets nervous before the game?
"I don't know about nervous. But I'll be excited. The night before in the hotel I don't think I'll be able to sleep."
You'd better get some sleep...
"I'll be lying in bed but I think my eyes will be wide open. I'm going to be so ready to go next Saturday."