Catching On: Hicks Stepping Up at Safety

Mike Hicks

Sept. 29, 2011

By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider

You can look it up in the Texas high school football record books, but former China Spring receiver Mike Hicks ranks among the best ever in the Texas schoolboy ranks.

Three years later, Hicks still ranks eighth in career receptions (229) and second in career yards (4,331), behind only former Texas All-American and Cincinnati Bengals receiver Jordan Shipley from Burnet, Texas.

But for all his catches and records, Hicks was largely overlooked in recruiting. Until Baylor offered him a scholarship a week or so before signing date, he was expecting to sign with Texas State and held offers from Portland State and Montana State. That's it.

"My family kept telling me that the best things would come at the end, so I had to kind of wait it out," he said. "It was always in the back of my mind, because that's always what I've wanted to do - come to college and play football. But I couldn't concentrate on that all the time, it would just bug me. So I had to keep focusing on something else."

Despite growing up in the shadow of Baylor - his high school field was just 15 miles from Floyd Casey Stadium - Hicks said, "I never saw myself at Baylor."

"I didn't really become a Baylor fan until (former China Spring quarterback) Shawn Bell was part of the team," Hicks said. "And then whenever Baylor started calling me, I guess I jumped on that bandwagon."

It's funny, while Hicks wasn't even looked at as a college receiver - his only offers came as a defensive back - it's those skills that have helped the 5-foot-11, 195-pound junior earn a starting job at cover safety and rank among the national leaders with two interceptions in the first three weeks of the season.

"The reason Mike's able to make plays on the ball is because he was a high school receiver," Baylor head coach Art Briles said. "That's one of the things we look for when we're evaluating DBs - can they make a play on the ball in the air. And with Mike, you never have an issue, because he's caught a lot of balls. If he didn't work out defensively, he's a guy that could come over and play inside receiver for us right now, just because he's a good football player and knows how to play the ball."

Hicks was squarely in the middle of the national spotlight four weeks ago, when he clinched the 50-48 season-opening upset of 14th-ranked TCU with an interception in the waning seconds of the game. With the Horned Frogs driving for a possible go-ahead score, Hicks picked off an errant pass over the middle from Casey Pachall and ran out all but the last two seconds.

"I guess you could say I was in the right position at the right time," Hicks said.

"That's a big-time play," Briles said.

Ever the critic, defensive coordinator Phil Bennett told Hicks that he "needed to make that play at the end of the game."

"He needed to make up for some things," Bennett said. "But I thought (in a 48-0 win over Stephen F. Austin), he got better. I thought he did some things better in alignment, read his keys better, and I thought he tackled better. He's got some savvy about being a football player. He plays with intelligence, and he's a tough kid, too."

The 20 pounds he's added over the last two years help. As a multi-sport standout in high school, splitting time between football, baseball, track and soccer, he didn't spend a lot of time in the weight room and came to Baylor as a 175-pound freshman.

"To play with guys in the Big 12, you've got to be bigger than what you were in high school," he said. "Even if you were a decent player in high school, you've still got to put on some weight."

After packing on 20 pounds of muscle, Hicks is now a heat-seeking missile who isn't afraid to "bring the wood."

"I'm ready for him to lay some hits," senior running back Terrance Ganaway said, "because Mike might be little, but he will definitely come up and hit you hard."

"You can't always be looking for the big shot, the big hit, the one that makes the crowd go, `Oooh!''' Hicks said. "The thing you've got to do is make sure you make the tackle. If the time comes, I guess I'll show people what I've got. And if I never get a chance to (make the big hit), that's fine with me, too."

While Hicks earned all-state honors as a receiver, safety and kick returner, picking off four passes as a senior, he benefitted from two years of tutoring from Baylor safeties Jordan Lake and Tim Atchison.

"Ever since my freshman year, they brought me in and took me under their wing and kind of told me their secrets," Hicks said. "They would always tell me the little things I needed to know, the little secrets that would help me out."

As an 18-year-old freshman living on his own for the first time, "it meant a lot" to get that kind of help from Lake and Atchison, who's now with the St. Louis Rams.

"One day you're at home, your mom's cooking meals, the house is always clean," he said. "And then you move off to school and you're on your own. You have to do your own laundry, stuff like that. It was just kind of weird, not being used to that environment. And I didn't know anybody at Baylor. So it's good when you've got somebody who will help you out like that and become your friend."

Hicks, who will graduate in May with a degree in general studies, said he's considering following in his uncle's footsteps and becoming a fire fighter. But that's down the road.

"To tell you the truth, I'm just trying to pass my classes and play some ball right now," he said.

The 15th-ranked Bears, off to their first 3-0 start in six years, will face Kansas State (3-0) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Manhattan, Kan., in a game that will be nationally televised by ABC.



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