"It was real close, but when I came to Minnesota, the coaches and the staff made me feel at home. These are the type of people I want to be around, and I also knew that as a team, this team is moving up," Hicks said. "They are doing things and heading in the right direction. That's the direction I'm trying to go myself."
Initially, Hicks had his reservations about making Minnesota his first destination on a short free-agent tour. He knew the backfield situation with Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor and wasn't sure why the team was interested in talking to him.
"That was a question on my mind and my agent's mind," he said. "We asked the coaches and stuff – we were wondering why they want me and they already have two great backs. That's what caught my interest in wanting to come and find out and see why they were so interested in me. Coming to visit, I see that I definitely can fit into this offensive scheme and help this team out."
The offensive scheme is a familiar one for Hicks, which helped solidify his decision to sign with the Vikings. They run a West Coast Offense that is very similar to the one he was part of in San Francisco for his first four active years in the league.
While his forte so far has been as a kick returner, in Minnesota he also expects to be used mainly on third downs.
"Some third-down stuff and of course special teams. … Hopefully the coaches will definitely work me in and get me on the field where they believe I should be," he said, later adding that he isn't too preoccupied in trying to figure out his role right now. "That's not one of my concerns. Wherever the coach wants me and feels like I can help the team, that's what I'm going to do. Whatever he calls me up to do, that's what I'm going to do, no matter where that's at."
In four years with the 49ers, Hicks had 205 carries for 869 yards (a 4.2-yard average) and six touchdowns. He spent part of his visit with the Vikings talking football and explaining plays from his past on a dry-erase board.
His biggest attraction as a free agent, however, was as a kick returner, something he did very seldom at North Carolina A&T.
"Not doing kick returns in college, just doing something new was a big experience for me, knowing that those guys out there play at a different speed. The physicalness is high," he said, but he never had a fear doing it "because I'm used to that. I'm a tough guy and I'm willing to deal with anything. In college, those guys have got a little strike on them, too."
Despite his inexperience returning kicks when he entered the league, that skill became a big part of his accomplishments at San Francisco. The previous three years he averaged 22.9 yards per return and set a couple of franchise records.
The last two seasons, he has averaged 23.8 yards on 63 returns (in 2007) and 25.1 yards on 57 returns (in 2006). His 1,428 return yards in 2006 set the franchise record for total yards on kickoff returns and then he bested that mark with 1,502 yards in 2007. The Vikings' franchise record is 1,345 yards by Buster Rhymes in 1985.
His performance against the Vikings on Dec. 9, 2007 certainly didn't hurt the Vikings' interest in him. Hicks was one of the lone bright spots for the 49ers in a 27-7 Vikings drubbing at Monster Park. He returned five kickoffs for 170 yards.
He became one of the 49ers' top coverage players on special team, too, but he might also be asked to return punts in Minnesota, something he has never done in an NFL game.
"One of the reasons is that they didn't want to risk getting me hurt because I was a backup to Frank (Gore). I'm sure (the Vikings) will talk about that more when it comes to minicamp and training camp. I'm sure I'll be out there practicing it, but I'll just have to wait and see what they have in store for me," he said.
For now, Hicks is back in Greensboro, N.C., happy to be done with the free-agent process, which, no matter the duration, can be a taxing process on a player.
Once the 49ers signed running back DeShaun Foster, Hicks didn't hear anything from his former team about an interest in bringing him back. He also didn't hear much from the Chicago Bears, where he spent his first season in league on injured reserve and came to know Vikings receiver Bobby Wade.
All Hicks knew is that he didn't want to wait too long to sign because he figured the offers would only go down and the pickings would become slimmer.
"It's mind-boggling," he said of the free-agent process. "You're just sitting around waiting and don't know where you're going to be. Just hoping to find something to benefit you and go to a place that you know you're going to be comfortable at. It's a lot of things going on. But when it's all said and done and everything's been done and taken care of, it relieves a lot."