Recruiting Spotlight: Jordan Hicks

First in the series of the Crowning Six.

Vitals

Name: Jordan Hicks

Position: Linebacker

Height: 6-2

Weight: 220

Speed: 4.58 40-yard dash

High School: Lakota West, West Chester (OH)

Rating (Rivals): Five out of five (6.1)

Post-commitment thoughts

Overview/Recruitment

Commitment Instant Analysis:

Florida began to fall by the wayside when Charlie Strong left for Louisville, but the death blow probably came when Urban Meyer didn't visit. It's hard to say what exactly happened with Ohio State, but the weather, his mother's relationship with Jeff Madden, Jordan's relationship with Will Muschamp, and his overall lack of ties to the state of Ohio helped eventually eliminate the Buckeyes from contention when Hicks sat down to make his final decision.

Even picking up Jackson Jeffcoat was an incredible get for the Longhorns to help top off an amazing recruiting class in its own right, but adding Hicks to it as well is almost unfathomable -- it will probably take some time to process everything and put it all into proper perspective, but even Bill Walton might have trouble making hyperbolic statements. The class is just that good and that the announcements of both Hicks and Jeffcoat both came within 90 minutes of each other and both favored the Longhorns is just staggering.

It's a bit of a conspiracy theory, but what are the chances that the two communicated about their decisions and decided to announce so close together as a show of solidarity for the Longhorns? That such a thing is even thinkable is almost beyond words.

Maybe it was just completely serendipitous -- both players just came to the same decision at the same time and wanted to end the process as quickly as possible before Signing Day. After all, Jeffcoat was expected to announce on Sunday night, but moved his press conference up two days.

Now, the next question is which recruit is the crown jewel of this class -- Hicks or Jeffcoat? But wait, Reggie Wilson, Tevin Jackson, Mike Davis, and Darius White all have strong claims to that title as well. Hell, why even debate something like that? They are all the crown jewels of the class. The class is the crown jewel.

And by the way, Jordan Hicks looks amazing in burnt orange. More later, of course, on the implications.

This would be the time to talk about those implications. 

Recruiting has become such a major business in college football that there is tremendous pressure exerted by the recruiting services on the time of these kids. Constant calls for interviews can be draining and open up the possibility of creating major message board firestorms with one ill-considered comment. Hicks and his head coach smartly dealt with the demands of the process by scheduling a weekly conference call, the oly time during the football season that Hicks poke with reporters.

But even that fell by the wayside at the end of the process as Hicks went underground in an attempt to make a decision. However, it was clear by the time of his announcement that Hicks had handled the process as well as could be expected and his weekly conference call is something that a lot of the national recruits would be well served to adopt.

It's hard to say that the Hicks recruitment was a referendum on Will Muschamp as a recruiter because he's obviously done an excellent job assembling the rest of the class, but it was certainly always going to be a test case for Muschamp as a closer and an indication of what will happen when Muschamp has the opportunity to see the process through from start to finish. It was Muschamp who convinced Mack Brown to let him recruit HIcks and it was the work that Muschamp did with Hicks that ultimately established the comfort level resulting in his commitment. Referendum? No. An indication of Coach Boom's recruiting prowess? Unequivocably yes.

Here's a recap of the major factors that led Hicks to choose Texas:

  • Trust factor -- Hicks commented that he felt like the Texas coaching staff really listened to him. Hicks also established a strong relationship with Muschamp that became apparent last fall.

On his level of trust:

It feels like a boulder has been lifted off my shoulders. It's just where I felt most comfortable. I just trusted them the most, coach (Will) Muschamp, every one of them really (Rivals ($)).

There were a lot of similarities between all three schools but the differences were the little things like the trust factor and that they showed they listened to what we said. It was clear Texas was the place (Inside Texas).

  • Stability -- Ohio State didn't have any issues in that regard, but the Florida program was anything but stable in the early weeks of the new year, as Urban Meyer abruptly resigned and then returned to the team and Charlie Strong left for the head position at Louisville. 

On Urban Meyer:

It affected it a lot. It showed how much more stable Texas was than Florida. That was a big factor and had a big affect on my decision (IT).

  • Weather -- Hicks reportedly wanted to attend a school in a warm-weather state and central Texas certainly fits that description.
  • Scheme stability -- Hicks may have to learn new terminology under Muschamp, but the otherwise the scheme at Texas is exactly what Larry Cox runs at Lakota West.
  • Family comfort level -- A major part of Hicks' decision was always going to be the impact it would have on his mother, sister, and niece. Even from the beginning of the process, Hicks' mother, Kelly Justice, planned on accompanying her son wherever he decided to go. Judging by the look on her face after her son's announcement, she's extremely happy with the decision to head to Austin.
  • The Mad Dog factor -- Justice worked with Madden when they both worked at Colorado. The prior relationship between the two no doubt increased her willingness to bless her son's decision to attend Texas.
  • Personal comfort -- Hicks also felt comfortable at Texas. For an out-of-state player, there's no guarantee that Hicks would be made to feel comfortable with all the Texas kids. However, after taking his official visit, Hicks said that he just felt like another recruit. No doubt the opportunity to build relationships and see the camaraderie of the Texas commits at the Under Armour game made a difference as well, especially since Hicks was able to play on the same team as Aaron Benson, Taylor Bible, Ashton Dorsey, MIke Davis, Darius White, and Adrian White.

On his level of comfort:

The way the team and the staff welcomed me in, that was the biggest thing for me. I didn’t feel like some kid from Ohio, I felt like just another kid. They welcomed me in real well.

Commitment video

Hicks press conference transcript (all emphasis is mine):

Head coach Larry Cox: Good afternoon. We started this odyssey when he was in the eighth grade and I can remember sitting in my office with Kelly and Jordan and talking about the future and where it was going to take him. At that time it was going to take him to the University of North Carolina to play basketball. It's amazing how time has evolved and changed and the way that he has handled this whole process has been nothing but first class. I'm very proud of how he has handled things.

When you look at the final analysis of his accomplishments - two-time All-GMC defensive team, two-time first team All State, Ohio Gatorade Player of the Year, Ohio Defensive Player of the Year, Under Armour All-American, Maxpreps All American. Today, we were just notified that he was named to the Parade All-American team and best linebacker. The accolades show to me that he will go down quite possibly and arguably as the most celebrated player in the state of Ohio. Ever.

For that, we're very proud, very grateful to have gone through this experience with Kelly and Jordan because they've handled it the right way - all the coaches have told me that. This is a day of celebration. It's emotional a little bit because you've got a young man who you've watched grow from being a boy as an eighth grader to somebody that's getting ready to take the biggest step of his life and we couldn't be any prouder. So at this time I'm going to hand the microphone over the Jordan and I'll let him finished the statement.

Jordan Hicks: First of all, I'd like to thank everybody for coming out. Today's a big day for me so I thank you for the support. I'd also like to thank my mom and my sister and everybody who has supported me through this whole thing - my teammates and my coaches, you know, just everybody. So with that said (reaching under the table) I'd like to say that I'm going to be...a Texas Longhorn.

Reporter: Why Texas, Jordan?

JH: I just felt like it was the best fit for me. I felt real comfortable. It was just in my heart.

R: How much pressure did you feel to go to Ohio State as this process went along. I imagine a lot of fans around here and people in the halls and people in the malls - how much pressure was there from that standout?

JH: I feel like I got pressure to everywhere. It wasn't just Ohio State, it was I got pressure to go to Florida and Texas and Ohio State. I was just trying to handle it the best way I could.

R: When did you make the decision?

JH: I think it was this week, Monday, last week maybe I'm not sure. Some time in the last week.

R: What was the tipping point picking Texas over Ohio State?

JH: It was in my heart, that's just where I felt the most comfortable.

R: Was there a point in the process when you didn't feel that way about Texas, when maybe you were leaning somewhere else or was Texas in the lead the whole way.

JH: Coming back from each visit I felt like maybe that was the place for me, but that's just the way you feel coming off of a visit. When I sat back and thought about it, Texas was the right place to me.

R: Jordan, how many times have you been to Texas for camps and visits?

JH: I think I've only been twice.

R: What were those experiences like for you?

JH: Oh, it was fun. I met a lot of the players and coaches. I built a good relationship with those people.

R: So you like the city of Austin?

JH: Oh, it's beautiful.

R: Jordan, what specifically is the attraction of Texas? Obviously Will Muschamp is there, but what specifically stands out?

JH: Everything. They're all good programs, but Texas just has that family feel - I feel like I'm already a part of it.

R: How hard was it to turn your back on Ohio State?

JH (interrupting a bit): I don't feel like I turned my back on Ohio State.

R (stammering): Obviously they were on you for a long time and you're living in Ohio and stuff. How difficult is it to walk away from Ohio to Texas?

JH: I wasn't born here, I moved here in sixth grade (laughter from Hicks and crowd, some applause and an unintelligible comment)...In the end it came down to what was best for me and Texas was best for me. (empashas mine)

R: What time did you call Mack Brown this morning and what was that conversation like?

JH: I actually called him yesterday.

R: What time?

JH: Around lunch, I don't know what time.

R: What was the conversation like with coach Brown?

JH: It was great, he was just really excited. I told him how I felt and how I was real excited. He actually screamed (laughter). It was a real good conversation. It felt good to get it out and let the coach know that I'm going to commit there.

R: Did you enjoy the recruiting process?

JH: It was difficult at times, it got overwhelming. I wouldn't take it back, it was a great experience. Not many people get to go through and I'm lucky I was able to.

R: Throughout the process did you feel like you got a good handle on each school and to get all the exposure you needed to make a decision?

JH: Yeah, I do. There's a few thing I wish I could have done, but there's stuff also that I couldn't control like the coaching changes. There were how many coaching changes this year that I couldn't control. When it came down to it, it was just Texas was the best.

R: Was Florida your second pick and then Ohio State?

JH: I really didn't rank them, it was just what stood out to me.

R: Was Texas way above the other two, not even close with the other two schools?

JH: No, it wasn't like that, it was a tough decision. I've been thinking about it for a long time and coach Meyer and coach Tressel are both great people.

R: How ere those conversations?

JH: They were tough, but they handled it well.

R: When did you tell coach Tressel?

JH: Just before this, actually. Just a while ago.

R: What did he say?

JH: He understood. He's used to it, not everyone is going to commit to where you're at. He understands I had to do what's right for me.

R: What did you say to him exactly?

JH: I said I'm not going to be attending Ohio State University and he said, "Where are you going to be attending," and I said, "Texas." He said, "Okay, I wish the best for you."

R: Will Muschamp's name was out for a couple different jobs, including the Tennessee job. How much would that have affected your decision? What's your relationship like with him?

JH: I have a great relationship with him. Every time his name came up, he reassured me he wasn't going anywhere and he backed it up by not going anywhere. That shows a lot of loyalty to Texas. That's key.

R: What was the influence of coach Cox and your mom and all your friends here on your decision?

JH: They had a huge factor in my decision. They've been here looking out for me through the whole process. I know they have a feel for me and my concerns and I feel like what they say is very important and what they say was very important for me.

From Hicks' gigantic, genuine smile, it was clear that the recruiting process had taken some toll on him, despite how well he and his coach handled it. Finally announcing his decision was not ony a big relief, but also an exciting moment, a chance to generate his own personal momentum moving forward.

Hicks' smile was certainly a moving aspect of his commitment, but the funniest aspect may have been his comment that Mack Brown "actually screamed" when he heard of Hicks' decision to become a Longhorn. It must have been an extremely open moment for Brown, the consummate politician, a guy who is always in control, always aware of how he's perceived. The question? What's the pitch of the Mack Brown Commitment Scream? It is reserved only for five stars? Can he recreate it at the Signing Day press conference tomorrow?

It's not easy for a high school senior to handle tough questions in a press conference like that, but Hicks handled himself with remarkable eloquence and maturity, hallmarks of his throughout the process. In particular, Hicks dealt with the question about turning his back on Ohio State with composure, but also with just a hint of fire. His reponse illuminates why it was so easy to walk away from a school known as Linebacker U -- he's not from Ohio, his mom lived in Boulder and South Carolina. Ohio is not an appealing place to him because he has no ties there and the weather is terrible.

Add in Will Muschamp and the family atmosphere at Texas and everything else and Hicks became a Longhorn. It wasn't an easy decision for him, but when it came down to it, Texas and the Longhorns and the city of Austin were in his heart. Don't believe it, still? Just look at this smile:

Hicks_hook_medium

Offers

  • Texas (committed 1/29/2010)
  • Alabama
  • Cincinnati
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Michigan
  • Notre Dame
  • Ohio State
  • South Carolina
  • Stanford
  • USC
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin
Instant Scouting Report:
Hicks is a stud. Just about everything that Coach Boom could want from a linebacker, Hicks brings to the table. Toughness. Smarts. Speed. Striking ability. The ability to read and diagnose, then make the play when he gets there. Drop into coverage. Come on now, there's a reason that he's widely considered the best linebacker in the class. At this point, there's not much more to say than that.

Rivals:

"Hicks is a very explosive athlete that excels as a pass rusher and a pass defender. He will need to add some size and strength, but you can't teach aggressiveness and he has that and this should make him a difference maker at the next level." -- Barry Every
"Jordan is a long, lean linebacker that has great body structure. I think by the time he's through his freshman year, he'll be able to play at 235 pounds and still keep his ability to get to the football. It's a solid group of linebackers this year, but nobody has the pass-rushing skills that Hicks does. He is incredible coming off the edge and he's angry when he gets there." -- Jeremy Crabtree

Strengths:

  • Blitzing the quarterback: Rivals' Every calls this aspect of Hicks' game his most impressive ($): "May be the best pass-rushing linebacker in the country. Hicks is incredible at coming of the edge and chasing plays down from behind."
  • Wingspan -- Possessing a combination of long arms and wide shoulders, Hicks has a wingspan that provides a wide tackling radius when filling running lanes or attempting to bring down the quarterback on a blitz.
  • Chase/football speed -- Hicks may not always test off the charts in terms of a blazing 40 time, but he has unquestioned football speed. Aided by a strong sense of the geometry of the game, Hicks takes good angles. On one play in the Under Armour game, Hicks took the proper angle to run down the return man trying to take the edge on him. His pure speed was probably not a match, but he was able to make the play by understanding his own speed compared to the speed of his opponent.
  • Special teams acumen -- On his highlight film, Hicks scores a touchdown on a long fake punt, taking the corner on a defender using a shoulder fake a la the one Mark Ingram threw Blake Gideon in the national championship game and threw a block on Darius White's punt return for the touchdown in the Under Armour game. Hicks has a track record of making plays on special teams at the high school level and should continue to do so in college.
  • Projectable frame -- The Ohio standout has a lean body type and the frame to add quality muscle after entering the Texas weight program -- there are no concerns about him being able to put on the necessary weight to deal with offensive linemen at the point of attack.
  • Downhill burst/short-area power -- A major part of what makes Hicks such a dynamic prospect is his short-area acceleration and downhill burst, allowing him to make quick plays in the running game after his quick initial diagnosis. More than just helping him get to the ball though, his acceleration allows him to bring some serious force to bear on opposing ballcarriers -- Hicks generates extraordinary striking velocity and does so with excellent leverage and by usin ghis lower body.
  • Affecting passing lanes -- This might be the area where Hicks' ability as a basketball player shows through on the football field the most. Hicks would be an imposing figure defending the in-bounds pass in a late-game situation using his ability to get off the ground quickly. On the football field, it means that he disrupts passing lanes and knocks down passes. Sometimes intercepts them in the process. It's part of why he's such an excellent blitzer:
  • Screen game diagnosis -- On his highlight film, Hicks shows a consistent ability to quickly read the screen game and put himself in a position to make plays by either decisvely punishing the recipient of the pass shortly after the catch or forcing throwaways, Hicks seems to consistently put himself in the middle of the screen game.

Weaknesses:

  • Hitting and separating from blockers -- It's a common theme for almost every high school defensive tackle to struggle with leverage and using their hands to hit and separate quickly and Hicks is no exception at the linebacker position and it's an area he will continue to improve in as he works with the Texas coaching staff.
  • Pure speed -- It's borderline grin-inducing to see the listed 40 time for Hicks as 4.58. I mean, Tevin Jackson and Adrian Phillips both supposedly run in the mid 4.4s. This stuff is just not particularly believable. Not to say that the two Garland stars aren't fast, because they are. The time for Hicks might be legitimate though and it's almost refreshing to see within the context of most reported 40 times.
  • Flexibility -- Hicks is more than solid in coverage, but does show a little stiffness when attempting to turn and run. Playing with more knee bend could help him maximize his explosiveness in those situations.

Comparison: Derrick Johnson. Few linebackers can match Johnson's pure speed or incredible ability to knock the football loose, but Hicks has the opportunity to be a linebacker in same mold in terms of his ability to impact the game. If Hicks could get Johnson on the phone and get some tips on the move he used to separate the ball from the ballcarrier.

Target Weight -- 230 pounds. Hicks has an excellent frame capable of carrying more weight and one observer projects that he could compete at 235 pounds without losing a step. For Hicks, it's less a matter of reaching a certain weight, but more about increasing his strength to the point where he can take on offensive linemen at the point of attack without being at a decided disadvantage in strength.

Adding weight must not come at the expense of increasing his flexibility, which will aid his ability to change directions and open up in the passing game, but also in the running game when pursuing to the edge -- in a base nickel defense, the linebackers are responsible for covering more ground sideline to sideline. And since Hicks doesn't have the pure speed of a guy like Derrick Johnson, it will be important for him not to lose any of the speed that he currently possesses. Faced with a choice between strength or speed and flexibility, the obvious choice is the latter.

Verdict

This is the result of Muschamp. Jordan Hicks, brought to you by Coach Boom. All priase to Coach Boom.

Early in the process, the linebacker position was considered a major need for the Longhorns in 2010 -- in fact, it could have been the major position of need for the class. It didn't really stay that way, however, as the early injury to Jared Norton that will give him another season of eligibility and the base nickel look with only two linebackers results in a more limited rotation. Only four linebackers played much in 2009 -- Muckelroy, Robinson, Acho, and Earnest. Three of the four will be back, with Norton fighting for playing time in replacing the departed Muckelroy.

In other words, there won't be a great deal of snap available to the three linebackers in the 2010 class. Acho and Robinson played at such a high level that it will be difficult to displace them as the starters until they graduate following the 2011 season, but look for two of the three to crack the rotation their sophomore season. Until then, special teams will have to be where they make plays and if his highlight film and work at the Under Armour game is any indication, Hicks has the ability to compete on special teams with the best players in the country. It would be surprising for him not to earn a starting role on most of the special teams unit, an idea supported by Rivals' Jeremy Crabtree:

I think he's the type of kid that comes in and at least sees action on special teams as a freshman. Just imagine what he'd be like running down on the kickoff or punt coverage teams. He'd be a terror. He's also got the ability to come into the rotation in third-down situations when he can rush the passer or use his speed and athleticism in coverage.

When he does finally crack the rotation, Hicks has all the opportunity in the world to become an All-American linebacker at Texas and fits perfectly in a nickel scheme that forces linebackers to use their speed to take away the edge from opposing running backs, while also having the strength to take on offensive linemen at the point of attack. It's a varied job description, but one that Hicks should be able to fulfill.

Impact ETA: A special teams play in September. Which phase? No idea. Could be a block, a tackle. Something positive. Impact at the linebacker position? Probably his sophomore season.

Highlights:

 

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