Better late than never: Aurora 2020 graduate Adam Hicks proves patience is the path of the righteous crusader
Blaine Nye once said, “Offensive linemen are like salt. Nobody ever remembers the brand they buy.”
Oddly enough, the former offensive guard was a member of the Dallas Cowboys, who reached the Super Bowl three times during the 1970s.
Nye didn’t exactly achieve royalty despite helping “America’s Team” win its first NFL title during the 1971 season.
Not a chance when you’re surrounded by Hall of Famers such as Roger Staubach, Bob Hayes and Lance Alworth.
Like Nye, Adam Hicks knows all about being linked to a certain bland sodium chloride.
Forever true to offensive linemen everywhere, the 2020 Aurora graduate takes it with a grain of “salt.”
“I played a little bit my junior year on defense,” Hicks said.
Let’s be honest: The red carpet isn’t exactly reserved for burly, blue-collar behemoths like offensive linemen.
As for Hicks, his particular brand of a certain crystalline mineral wasn’t just anonymous. It wasn’t even in stock.
“He was a JV [junior varsity] player his sophomore and junior years,” longtime Greenmen head football coach Bob Mihalik said.
Heck, one may have wondered why Hicks decided to make West Pioneer Trail his second home in the first place. Hicks, who transferred to Aurora from Streetsboro after his freshman year, went from a team that has just three playoff trips in its not-so-storied history to a program that aims for state championships every year.
Look at it this way: Prior to the 2018 season, the Greenmen played postseason games every fall for an unprecedented 13 consecutive years.
The streak came to an abrupt halt in 2018. Did that mean the little-known lineman got his opportunity?
Other than some limited action on defense, Hicks probably wouldn’t have been invited to a club that Nye created for gentlemen who are about as photogenic as, well, salt.
That would be the “Zero Club.”
“I didn’t want to be a sub any more,” Hicks said.
Fortunately for the underappreciated brute, his patience paid off. Hick became a starter for the first time during his senior year.
And just like a typical heartwarming rags-to-riches’ tale, Hicks hasn’t looked back since.
Hicks recently decided to continue his academic and football careers at John Carroll University, a private Jesuit university in University Heights. Hicks, who also considered Walsh University in North Canton and Otterbein University in Westerville, is planning to major in either human resources or finance.
“John Caroll’s coaches were very easy to connect with and when they recruited me, I wasn’t only hearing from my recruiter, I was hearing a lot from the head coach,” Hicks said. “He [fourth-year head coach Rick Finotti] visited us during New Philly week and that first time we talked, I knew they were going to be one of my top schools.”
When Hicks made it clear that standing helplessly on the sidelines was no longer an option, he meant it.
Hicks, who also played for Aurora’s ice hockey team, found the smell of cast iron and metal quite pleasing after his nondescript junior season on the gridiron.
“He worked hard in the weight room,” Mihalik said. “He was the second strongest guy on the team.”
Hicks didn’t discover his massive strength by accident. Not surprisingly, he did it the unattractive way: through blood, sweat and tears.
“After my hockey season during my junior year, I just put my head down and grinded,” Hicks said. “I wanted to establish early in the season that I wanted to be a role player on the line.”
All told, Hicks started 14 games during his three-year career with the Greenmen. All 14 of those starts took place during his senior year.
Therefore, if an unremarkable career backup was lining up for Aurora on Friday nights, playing a game or two past the first day of November seemed out of the question.
“Adams Hicks is your starting guard? Who?” The naysayers may have jeered.
So what actually happened when this once hopeless prisoner broke free from his JV purgatory?
He found salvation. So did his teammates.
With Hicks playing a larger role than he ever did on Friday nights, the Greenmen had their first undefeated regular season since the late 20th century.
That was only the tip of the iceberg.
Hicks and Co. wound up reaching the Division III state semifinals for the first time in seven years. When the glorious 2019 season ended in December, Aurora’s body of work showed 13 victories and just one loss on its impressive curriculum vitae.
And Hicks was in the middle of those trench wars, stymieing more established and more talented defensive linemen everywhere he turned.
“Playing at Aurora has been great,” Hicks said. “There is no other school I’d rather play for. 2019 was the best season of football I’ve ever had. We were one big family. We still talked to the younger guys even after the season.”
Hicks would know. When you become a helmet-wearing gladiator at Veterans Stadium, you know this: Tradition never graduates.
And sometimes that tradition takes an unexpected turn here and there. In this case, no-names such as Hicks can turn into rock stars overnight.
“He only played 14 games and is going to play college football,” Mihalik said of his 2019 Suburban League American Conference second-team selection. “Three guys, Hicks, [Tucker] Nietert [the Greenmen’s other starting guard] and [Tony] Gramm [fullback] didn’t start until their senior year. That’s a great message for our younger kids.”
Hicks knows his time in the spotlight may be a brief one. Like Aurora, John Carroll has a reputation for winning a large number of games.
In recent years, at least.
The Blue Streaks finished 9-1 overall and 8-1 in the Ohio Athletic Conference last fall. In 2018, John Carroll made its fifth playoff appearance in the 21st century.
Since the Blue Streaks are on a meteoric rise since Finotti became the team’s head coach in 2017, playing time might be scarce for this Job-like everyman.
Of course, Hicks knows that feeling all too well. He also knows that a Catholic university like John Carroll can appreciate this idiom: “Have the patience of a saint.”
If his college career mimics his swan song at West Pioneer Trail, Hicks hopes to be part of his own boys in blue’s “Zero Club.” Either way, it’s highly likely that he will embrace the club’s first rule.
“Thou Shalt Not Seek Publicity.”
“My No. 1 goal at JCU is to win a national championship and to finish my degree in four years,” Hicks said. “I don’t think I’ll start right away since I’m a true freshman and since I’m moving to center, it’s going to be a challenge.”
Reporter Frank Aceto can be reached at 330-541-9444, email@example.com or @Faceto_Gannett.