Back in the game: Hicks shakes off rust with two interceptions

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Former Central star Hicks shakes off two years of rust

Like most athletes, Monroe Hicks has plenty of confidence -- but even he admits that he didn't expect to be playing this well this soon.

Hicks, Southeast Missouri State's sophomore cornerback, has started the season with a bang, leading the Ohio Valley Conference in interceptions (two) and passes defended (seven) through two games.

Not bad, especially considering that Hicks is playing college football for the first time -- and also seeing his first game action of any kind since he was starring for Central High School in 2002.

"I had confidence I could do well, but I'm very surprised," said a smiling Hicks, when asked about his strong play so far. "But as long as you have faith, play hard and fly around, good things will happen."

But, added Hicks, "I feel like I'm still pretty rusty. I'm not where I need to be. I've still got a lot to learn."

The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Hicks has certainly been a fast learner so far.

"We feel like he's one of the best cornerbacks we've had in a long time," Southeast coach Tim Billings said. "He's still young, but he's going to be a good one. We're really excited about him."

Said Southeast secondary coach Joe Dan Rogers, "The kid is talented. Confidence and time, that's all he needs. He basically hasn't played in three years."

Hicks had a standout career for Central's Tigers as both a running back and defensive back, earning all-state honors. Southeast recruited Hicks, but he decided it was time to leave Cape Girardeau, so he signed with Central Missouri State.

"I wanted to get away and try a new environment," Hicks said. "I'd been in Cape my whole life. I wanted to see how it was somewhere else."

But it wasn't long before Hicks realized that the grass was definitely not greener away from home.

"When I left, I wanted to come back," he said. "Nothing against their [Central Missouri State's] program, but I didn't feel comfortable."

Hicks did not play as a freshman at Central Missouri State in 2003 because he was academically ineligible. He then transferred to Southeast, but had to sit out the 2004 season under NCAA transfer rules, although he was allowed to practice with the team.

It was during those practice sessions that Hicks began to wow Southeast's coaching staff, which led to him being placed in the starting lineup for the Redhawks' 2005 opener against powerhouse Southern Illinois at Houck Stadium.

Although the Redhawks lost 58-23 to SIU -- now ranked No. 1 in Division I-AA -- Hicks had a strong collegiate debut, returning an interception 47 yards for a touchdown.

"It was exciting," Hicks said. "To play in a game for the first time since high school, and to intercept a pass and score a touchdown ...

"I'm just really glad to be in Cape. I just love being home, to perform in front of my family and friends. It's just like high school."

Hicks had another impressive showing Saturday as Southeast's defense allowed less than 200 yards during a 33-12 loss at Division I-A Kent State. He intercepted his second pass and also recovered a fumble.

"Monroe has played very well so far," Billings said.

Hicks has both of Southeast's interceptions this year -- he is actually tied for the OVC lead in that department -- and his seven passes defended, which include five passes broken up, are four more than anybody else in the conference.

While those numbers are satisfying, Hicks would feel a lot better if the Redhawks weren't 0-2, although he acknowledges they have faced some rugged competition.

"We've played some really good teams, but I know we've got a good team," he said. "We just have to execute better and put our chemistry together."

If that happens, Hicks believes plenty of wins will soon follow.

"I'm very confident that we can have a winning season, and do really well in the OVC," he said.

Noteworthy

* Another Southeast defensive player leads two OVC statistical categories entering Saturday night's game at Missouri State (1-1).

Junior defensive end Edgar Jones is first in quarterback sacks (2.5) and tackles for loss (3.5). Jones had all his sacks at Kent State.

Junior linebacker Seth Harrell, a Jackson High School product, is tied for second in the OVC with two sacks, both coming at Kent State.

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