Justin Hickman: It's just the way it happened. When it was time for recruiting it was about what was the best fit for me. Both my parents went to USC but they didn't push me in either direction on where to go. I took all my trips and UCLA ended up being the best place for me because they were losing four defensive ends, both starters and both backups, so I was going to play. I came in and started my whole career.
ET: Walk us through your progression in terms of what you learned and some of your best memories along the way.
JH: We've had some successful seasons and I had a different coach each year of my career - so each year was different. My sophomore year was my first year of playing big-time Division I college football. It was all new to me and I was like a kid in a playground because I love college football. I missed two games. I got hurt mid-year and had meniscus (knee cartilage) surgery. I finished the season strong, but we lost to USC.
My junior year it was different. We went 10-2 and had some big wins, but the defense didn't play so well. It was more of the offense outscoring the opponent. We made stops when we needed them and I stepped up my game and was an All-Pac-10 honorable mention.
My senior year we had a new coach again and a whole new defensive staff. And the whole attitude of the defense just changed. The defense was the one winning games. The defense started taking over and it was no longer an offensive school. It just all came together for me personally as statistics go. We were stuffing the run better and making the other teams throw the ball more, so obviously there were more opportunities rushing the passer and that produces more sacks. Coach Howard had just come from the Jacksonville Jaguars and Coach Walker, our new defensive coordinator, had just come from the Redskins, so we had a lot of NFL input. We were big on technique on the defensive line. I just applied the things I was taught and played hard with good technique and good things happened.
|(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)|
ET: Going through a tough season like you did defensively your junior year, did you learn anything about yourself?
JH: Just to keep working, you can't get down. When there's doubt, nothing's going to go right. If guys are in the huddle saying, 'why'd he call that,' it's never good. You can never have doubt; you just have to keep working.
ET: What do you think your strengths are heading into the NFL?
JH: God-given athletic ability, being able to move laterally and being fast--being able to move this big body as fast as I can. I feel I'm a very smart football player with a high football IQ. I also use my hands very well. I try not to get overpowered. I try to use my technique to not get beat, and being a shorter guy I play with leverage. The combination of good leverage, strength and technique allow me to be successful.
ET: When you're trying to rush the passer, do you prefer trying to work your way around the outside or do you prefer using a stunt trying to get inside. Do you have better success one way or the other?
JH: No, it's about 50/50. Anything you do has to be executed properly and the person you're doing it with has to execute it properly. There's a whole bunch of different factors - it isn't just all on you with stunts, whereas with an outside rush it's just me one-on-one tackle.
ET You seem to be kind of a mellow, soft-spoken guy. Is that pretty characteristic off the field?
JH: Definitely. I'm a completely different guy off the field, I'm soft spoken. I like to chill out; I'm not a run the streets type of guy. I like to hang out with my friends, play video games, and watch movies. I'm like a big, little kid. I'm a kid at heart.
ET: What video games do you enjoy?
JH: Right now I have a Playstation 2, but I recently bought an original Nintendo so I've been playing Super Mario Brothers, taking it back to 1985.
Learn more about Justin Hickman by visiting his player profile page. And check back on Wednesday for the second half of this interview where Justin discusses his Combine experience, what you should know about him, and much more!
|A member of the Professional Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's NFL and college football player interviews and features have been published across the Scout.com network and syndicated through FoxSports.com's NFL team pages.|