CSU safety Jamal Hicks has emerged on and off the field since his injury

Eddie Herz

The current motto for junior safety Jamal Hicks, who is healthy and ready to contribute in the secondary again, is to pick up where he left off. 

Hicks broke his right arm in the first quarter of a late-October game against New Mexico last season. The safety had to get surgery and was forced to miss CSU’s five remaining games but remained glued to the sidelines during spring ball while he was still recovering from the season-ending injury.

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Since safety Jake Schlager and cornerback Kevin Nutt Jr. both graduated, Hicks will be counted on more in the secondary as an upperclassman. But, it is not as if Hicks did not play a role in his early years, causing the injury to sting further.

Hicks began to earn time as a starter near the end of his freshman season in 2016. The safety recorded 25 tackles that season and became the first true freshman to record an interception for CSU since Jasen Oden Jr. in 2012. Hicks recorded 33 tackles and forced three turnovers in eight games as a sophomore last season.

Hicks’ production was stopped dead in its tracks, a feeling was all too similar for the Gardena, California native.

When Hicks was a junior at Narbonne High School, he broke his ankle and had to watch the state championship game from the bench. His past prepared Hicks to deal with the mental strain that came with suffering the arm injury last season.

But, after all, college is a significantly larger platform than high school. Hicks stressed how much more harder coping with an injury at the collegiate level was.

“I was way more hurt not being able to be with my team this time around,” Hicks said. “And for those losses, I feel like I could have helped. They were all close. Imagine if I was out there and I made one more play for my teammates. It hurt me to see them hurt.”

Flash forward to now and there are no indicators, mentally or physically, that Hicks is coming off of a devastating injury.

Hicks gained 15 pounds of muscle during the offseason and is in season-ready physical condition. During fall camp, the safety’s performance in practice has helped him maintain a starting role in the secondary.

Hicks’ leadership and mental edge he gained when injured also helped him succeed in camp.

“(Hicks) doesn’t back down,” coach Mike Bobo said. “He’s leading. He’s like ‘this is my football team and this is my secondary.’”

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Senior Jordan Fogal, Hicks’ good friend and counterpart at safety, has no doubts about Hicks’ ability to bounce back effectively. Fogal praises Hicks’ talent and potential to keep improving. Fogal not only believes that Hicks is the best safety CSU possesses but maybe the best he has played alongside in his collegiate career.

“He can really do it all,” Fogal said. “He can play down in the box. He can stop the run game if he needs to. He can cover guys. He can play in the post. You can stick him anywhere.”

Hicks is right where he needs to be, but the road he faced was a long one. 

Hicks has been described by his coaches and teammates as one of the most passionate, charismatic members of the Rams. Bobo described Hicks as a player who “just loves ball and always wants to talk ball”.

Fogal explained how Hicks’ “enthusiasm and energy is top five of what I’ve played with in my entire life.”

On top of rehabilitation, Hicks had to deal with family trouble.

As a result, Hicks felt the best thing for his psyche was to take his mind off the game for a little while. So, he turned to his father James for support.

Photo Credit: Javon Harris

“I didn’t want to talk about football,” Hicks said. “When I got hurt, my Grandma had passed and I was just trying to be there for my family, for my dad. Me and my dad were just talking about life, about how time flies and you just need to cherish every day.”

When Hicks was ready to turn back to football, Fogal was there for him every step of the way. Hicks and Fogal, both California natives, have been extremely close friends since Hicks first suited up in green and gold.

The two safeties’ relationship blossomed further during the spring. Since Fogal was injured for the duration of spring ball as well, he had a place on the bench right next to Hicks.

While going through the same struggle, the two confided in each other and used each other as motivation to return stronger than ever.

“When we were injured, we worked out and rehabbed together,” Fogal said. “We were always together. Now during camp, we’ve given each other that extra motivation. We can’t get hurt again this year. We’re tired, but imagine where we were six months ago. It’s little things like that where we can relate to each other.”

Photo Credit: Javon Harris

In addition, Hicks gaining maturity and becoming more of a man off the field appears to have translated to his current leadership role with the Rams.

The catalyst was Hicks’ ability to spend more time with his three-year-old daughter, Kamilah, while he was injured.

Kamilah still lives in Hicks’ hometown of Gardena.

Hicks talks to her every day and flies back home to see her whenever he gets a chance. Kamilah has also traveled to Fort Collins for two CSU games and will be back to see her father play more this season.

“Since I met him, he has matured so much,” Fogal said. “Especially since his daughter has been out here more often. Obviously, on the field he’s going to mature, but I think off the field he’s becoming a man and a father.”

Hicks is also carrying on what he learned from former players.

Schlager was the veteran in the secondary, more specifically at the safety position when Hicks injured his arm last season. Schlager, who was third on the team in tackles last season, was a senior at the time.

The former safety was given the opportunity to take Hicks under his wing when Hicks first took the field in 2016.

“Jake (Schlager) was on me for the little things,” Hicks said. “I learned a lot from Schlager and he made a big impact on my production. I carried that on to the (younger) guys.”

Schlager witnessed and contributed to Hicks’ development and was there for the injury though he was graduated by the time Hicks started to recover. Schlager is confident that Hicks will come back hungrier than ever.

“I’d say that him going down with the injury and just how that injury happened motivates him a little bit more,” Schlager said. “It puts another chip on his shoulder and gives him that extra edge to have a year like none other and really make up for the year that he lost.”

Transitioning from an injury has not been the simplest task for Hicks. Like most players, the transition from high school to college was not the easiest for Hicks either. Schlager recalls Hicks struggling with his backpedal as a freshman.

However, he found a way to adjust. Schlager acknowledged that he “definitely saw that maturity and growth in the little things, like the backpedal,” from Hicks’ first season to his second.

In terms of the injury, Hicks is undeniably adjusting in a drastic manner. 

“I can definitely see him progress into a leader of that secondary and be able to lead that entire defense,” Schlager said. “He’s someone that loves the game and is motivated to be the best that he can possibly be. Not only for himself but for the team.”

Hicks will have his first shot at redemption against Hawaii in front of the home crowd.

Collegian sports reporter Eddie Herz can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @Eddie_Herz.