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Texas LB Jordan Hicks trying to prove he can stay healthy

The senior is the leader of the linebacker corps.

Kevin Jairaj-US PRESSWIRE

For former five-star linebacker prospect Jordan Hicks, the last two seasons for the Texas Longhorns have been full of frustrations.

Against Ole Miss in 2012, Hicks took an awkward step and suffered a hip injury that continued to linger and eventually ended his season after three games, leading to a medical redshirt.

How important was Hicks to the defense that season? Fellow linebacker Steve Edmond admitted after beating the Rebels that the rest of the linebackers "panicked" when Hicks went down. And that was in a blowout victory.

After he went down, the defense cratered, turning in arguably the worst season in Texas football history.

Back and healthy in 2013, the player who was called the top linebacker in Ohio prep history by his head coach suffered a torn Achilles in coverage against Kansas State in the season's fourth game.

Once again, Hicks had his season ended prematurely, the last in a long line of injuries that have defined his career in burnt orange as much as the success that has accompanied his play when healthy.

Both season-ending injuries came when he was leading the team in tackles -- in less than three games in 2012 he had 23 tackles and in 2013 he registered 40 in four games, including 15 in the losing effort against BYU.

When he was able to play all 13 games in 2011, a season that included eight starts, Hicks recorded 65 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, and four passes defensed.

After all the injuries, getting back on the field this fall has been accompanied by a tremendous sense of relief by Hicks.

"Very," Hicks responded last Friday when asked how anxious he is to get back on the field.

"It's nice to be back out there practicing and running around. It's been a while since I've been able to do that and put on pads and actually hit somebody. You know, getting that first hit out of the way is nice and being able to get my feet back under me feels really good."

According to linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary, Hicks hasn't looked tentative on the practice field so far moving around in his return.

"No I can't tell," said Strong's former assistant at Louisville. "Now, we haven't had a full speed live scrimmage where we are taking guys to the ground or there are cut blocks or anything like that. But, I haven't seen any hesitation from him. I obviously wasn't here pre-injury with him, but he looks fine to me."

In an effort to remain healthy for basically the first time in his Texas career, Hicks dropped weight from the spring to aid his explosiveness and reduce the wear and tear on his joints.

"Well, actually I cut down a few pounds," said Hicks. "I'm down, shoot, after the spring, I was about 245. I'm about 235 now. I wanted to make sure I had my legs on me and I could run and I had my speed coming back, especially from this injury. I've gotten stronger and it's a new scheme, so main thing I'm focusing on right now is just figuring out what's going on and trying to become an expert at this scheme, and hopefully teach the young guys and teach the guys I'll be playing with, make sure we're all on the same page."

The athleticism that made Hicks such a coveted prospect out of high school should be a major boon to the Texas defense, but his contributions will go more deeply than that. Of course, Hicks said that in terms of his efforts leading his position group, but it's something that Jean-Mary sees as well.

"He is an experienced player who has been here for a long time," said Jean-Mary. "He really understands the game. He is athletic and can fly around; he really is the voice of the defense as far as the communication aspect of it. It has been a great last couple of days with him because you can tell he adds more to the defense with him being out there."

Just as Hicks is helping the linebackers understand the new defense, he also helped junior running back Johnathan Gray work through his rehab from the same injury that Hicks had suffered months earlier.

"I stayed under Jordan's arm," said Gray. "I think he got annoyed with it, but he still helped me and that was a blessing. He was seven weeks ahead of me, so, I stayed under him. I kept asking him how it feels, and he just kept telling me to stay with it and stay humble. That is what I did, and we are back at a great time."

Aside from providing advice for his younger teammate, Hicks' own rehabilitation process has left him with a deep desire to impact the 2014 season for the Longhorns, his fifth on the 40 Acres. Jean-Mary sees the drive in his linebacker's actions.

"You can tell that he is hungry," said Jean-Mary. "You can just by the way he carries himself and the way he is practicing. He is a player who has a lot to prove, but I don't think he is out trying to prove anything to anybody outside of this building. I think he wants to prove it to himself, and I think he wants to help get the defense back to the standard it was when he first got here."

It's a standard that Texas hasn't come close to achieving the last two seasons after Hicks went down.

Combining with head coach Charlie Strong and the new defensive coaching staff, the senior linebacker may be the final piece of the puzzle that helps the group return to 2011 production levels.

For a program that has produced some excellent defenses in the last 10 years, that news would be particularly welcome, especially for the oft-injured Hicks.