Gerard Wicks' LAPD mom insisted on WSU

PULLMAN – Signing day for football letters of intent was just four days away in 2013 when Gerard Wicks, a highly coveted running back who had committed to Washington State, received a scholarship offer from a UCLA assistant coach. “He called me on my birthday of February 2nd,” Wicks recalled. “He said he had a present for me.”

Wicks, a lifelong resident of the Los Angeles area, had already turned down USC, Washington, Boise State and other schools with far more football success in recent years than Washington State. In the end, Wicks couldn’t stop thinking about the recruiting pitch of Cougars coach Mike Leach.

“He made a valid point, where I could have gone to UCLA or USC, who already have a rich program in winning,” Wicks said. “I could come here and change the program – my class (could). We’ll be the face of WSU for a while. We’ll be known as the team who changed the program around, who changed the culture at Wazzu. Coming from a losing program to a winning program.”

Wicks received a helpful nudge toward Pullman from his mother. Well, it more closely resembled the type of forceful shove you might expect out of a vice cop like Wicks’ mother.

“At the time, it was bad in L.A.,” Wicks said. “My mom is a cop for LAPD (the Los Angeles Police Department). She’s been a cop for 25 years.

“She wanted me to get away from that environment. WSU, when I came up for my visit, it was a home, a family atmosphere. I’m walking down the street, people know my name, are talking to me. It was really different from where I came from.”

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The personable Wicks has fit in well at WSU, on and off the field. After redshirting his first year, he scored four of the Cougars’ five rushing touchdowns last season (despite missing three games with an illness) while sharing playing time with starter Jamal Morrow. Wicks now looks like the frontrunner to start for the Cougars in 2015, and more impressively, he’s working toward degrees in criminal justice and political science, with a minor in business.

“The first thing that comes to mind with Gerard is, he’s an incredibly hard-working guy,” said senior offensive tackle Joe Dahl, another Cougar renowned for his work ethic. “He’s motivated.”

One look at the office desk that passes for Wicks’ chest would seem to support Dahl’s statement about Wicks being motivated. The 6-foot, 224-pound Wicks locked himself in the weight room during the offseason and added almost 20 pounds of muscle.

“You can see the transition in his body,” Dahl said. “He’s probably one of the biggest backs I’ve seen since I’ve been in college football.

“I think that’s entirely because of his work ethic. I think, in the long run, you’re going to see all of his hard work pay off. He’s an incredibly talented kid.”

WICKS MADE first-team all-state at prep powerhouse Long Beach Poly as a senior, when he ran for 1,596 yards and 20 touchdowns. Last year, he ran for 234 yards on 62 carries. Both figures ranked second on the Cougars behind Morrow (351 yards on 87 carries), who also was a second-year freshman last season. Wicks added 16 receptions for 76 yards and no touchdowns.

Speculation is high that the Cougars will run the ball more this season after ranking first in the nation in pass attempts and last in rushing attempts during each of Leach’s three seasons on the Palouse. Passing always figures to be priority No. 1 for Leach, but Wicks said he believes playing in Leach’s offense is preparing him well for the NFL career he hopes to achieve as a running back.

“The ‘next level’ (pro football) has changed considerably,” Wicks said. “They’re looking for a back who can catch, run (receiving) routes out of the backfield, block and run.”

JUST AS WICKS CREDITS LEACH for helping convince him to come to WSU, Wicks credits running backs coach Jim Mastro for helping him develop as a blocker, and strength and conditioning coach Jason Loscalzo for helping him develop his body. Now Wicks wants to help develop the Cougars into a winning team.

“It all starts with the attitude,” he said. “This year, the team attitude has totally changed.”

Wicks isn’t the first Cougar to point out that team unity was in short supply last season.

“People just weren’t buying in,” Wicks said. “Just the negativity. If one person is negative, it’s going to affect the whole team

“I feel like all that is gone. Everyone here is a Leach recruit.”

Wicks said players “all went their separate ways” away from the football facilities last year. That changed in the offseason, which Wicks credits largely to quarterback Luke Falk.

“He got the barbecues together, he got the meetings together,” Wicks said. “He really got everything started. We had a pool party at our apartment (Wicks lives with teammates Ivan McLennan and Paris Taylor). Everyone came, had fun.”

WICKS IS DETERMINED to have more fun than last year, when the Cougars finished 3-9. Most of the “experts” are predicting another losing season for WSU.

“I like that feeling being the underdog, where we could shock the world,” Wicks said.

Vast improvement on defense might be the key to a winning season.

“I think we’re going to have a great year with the new defense,” Wicks said. “With Coach Grinch (new defensive coordinator and secondary coach Alex Grinch) coming in, you can see the difference with the defense, how they all pursue to the ball. Last year, it was nothing like that.”

Another change from last year, Wicks said, is the ability to focus solely on the next game. Wicks said the Cougars are getting ready for no one but Portland State. The Cougars open the season at home against the Vikings on Saturday, Sept. 5 (11 a.m., Pac-12 Network).

“Last year,” Wicks said, “it seemed like the first game, we were all talking (about) going 4-0 … we just got too ahead of ourselves.

“Our motto this year is, just take one game at a time. All we’ve been thinking about is Portland State.”


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