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Pirate
Time
Machine
No. 28
(2004)

With Ron Cherubini
©2001-2004 Bonesville.net


Eddie Hicks

A Speed Merchant Takes Time to Reflect

Mentors, fleet feet carried Eddie Hicks
to an unforgettable ECU career

By Ron Cherubini
©2004 Bonesville.net


Photo: ECU SID

It was 1975 and the Pirates were in Chapel Hill, facing the Tar Heels in a game that, if all went as planned, the home team would win over their smaller neighbors to the east. It was early in the game and, surprisingly, the Pirates had jumped out to a lead. Then-coach Pat Dye sent out a freshman, an unheralded kid from Henderson, NC. What followed was a debut that few Pirates fans from back in the day will ever forget.

On his first play from scrimmage, a young Eddie Hicks took a handoff from quarterback Mike Weaver, slipped the line of scrimmage, and glided down the field for a 68-yard touchdown. He appeared effortless and, on that day, there was truly not a North Carolina player who could catch the blazing Hicks. He followed with a three-touchdown performance to lead a rousing 38-17 shellacking of the Tar Heels and, in doing so, began to etch his name into the fabric of ECU football. It was an unforgettable performance for a sure-fire future Pirates Hall-of-Famer.

“Well… no doubt my greatest moment (as a Pirate) was the first day I got a start,” Hicks said. “It was against North Carolina. They put me in and the first play from scrimmage was 68 yards for touchdown up the middle. I think I went on to score three touchdowns and we did what no other East Carolina team has done since (in beating UNC).”

The greatness of that moment was a foreshadow to what would become four years of Pirates rushing dominance as the Dye Wishbone piled up yardage at a rate consistently among the nation’s top teams — and in the middle of it was Hicks.

At First, It was Simply Speed

 Growing up in Henderson, Hicks was the youngest of three boys to father Grant and mom Lily May, two very hard working parents. It was evident very early on that Eddie had a gift for speed, but that speed was never harnessed in the framework of organized sports.

“As a young kid, I really did not start playing football until junior high school,” Hicks recalled. “I always thought about playing sports (football particularly), but you know, around where I grew up, you had to start working at a very young age and we didn’t have the transportation to take me to and from practice. (My parents) had to decide what comes first.”

Though he was oblivious at the time to the organized sports around him, there were men out there who were paying attention to this youngster who could fly on his feet. These men would become mentors that Hicks, all-too-soon, would realize he really needed.

“There was a man named Lonnie Davis, at my junior high, who used to talk to me about football all the time,” he recalled. “Davis saw me in PE classes and knew that I could really run. I was running track in junior high. Then a man named Tony Oaks (the high school coach at Northern Vance at the time) was the man who really pushed the issue for me to play football.”

With their prodding, Hicks went to his parents to make his case for playing football.

“When I talked to them, they said ‘OK,’” Hicks recalled. “So I went out.”

Irony in the Numbers:
Pirate Time Machine No. 28 is, appropriately enough, on an ECU great that wore jersey No. 28, Eddie Hicks.

Hicks, admittedly, was a little nervous as a freshman at Northern Vance High School, where he would start his career as a wide receiver.

“I actually played on the varsity my freshman year and it scared me to death to be out there with all the talent I’d seen there,” Hicks said. “I didn’t think I could start on that level during my first year. We had a guy named Steve Parham at running back and Michael Davis at middle linebacker…these were really great athletes at Northern Vance and I started at wide receiver and safety.”

So elusive was the freshman speedster that he quickly gained the reputation as a guy who was very hard to tackle, which prompted a position change to wing back as he progressed in his prep evolution.

“I could really slip and slide and I could really run the ball,” Hicks said of his talents. “Running the ball was a joy for me. When I played wing back and was getting the ball, it was very exciting, or after intercepting the ball and getting a chance to run with it in the open field… that was exciting.”

While just beginning high school, life dealt Hicks an unexpected blow when his father passed away. In the wake of his father’s death, life became very hard for Hicks, who found himself in a situation where three boys, pressed into being men, were having real difficulties in establishing who was the man of the house. And being the youngest proved an especially rough hardship.

“Honestly, my two older brothers and I fought all the time like cats and dogs,” Hicks said. “I was going through a lot of difficult situations back then.”

Enter a family friend, noting Hicks’ need for stability.

“There was a great, great man, Hamlet Wilkerson, who, along with his wife Catherine, took me into their home like a foster son,” Hicks said. “He was a teacher and he played a very important role in my life. He had followed my football and was a very close family friend. I used to go over to his house all of the time. To this day, his family is like my family and Catherine still plays a role in my life. They really put me in the right direction.”

Throughout his time with the Wilkersons, Hicks maintained a close relationship with his mom and his brothers.

“The situation with my brothers was as long as we see each other, but are not under the same roof, there was no problem,” Hicks laughed. “It was a man of the house issue, I guess.”

With his home situation stable, Hicks pursued what turned out to be a wonderful prep career that begat plenty of options for him as an athlete. And despite opting to let track lie as a prepster, his speed on the track actually played a role in his matriculation to East Carolina.

“You know, my freshman year in high school, everyone was like, ‘You can run, so you could choose track or football,’” Hicks said of his choice to pursue success on the gridiron. “I had the choice and I chose football because I just loved the contact and the challenge of it. I have a saying I really believe in, ‘If you’re going to talk the talk, you had better walk the walk.’ I felt that playing football was ‘walking the walk.’”

ECU Zeroes in on Multi-talented Athlete

The usual suspects came lurking around the campus of Northern Vance, looking for a few minutes with Hicks as he tried to figure out where he would go to college.

“Well, we looked at North Carolina State and North Carolina and it was a toss up as far as those two schools go,” Hicks recalled. “And then Coach Oaks sent films to East Carolina. They invited me up and I went to talk to Coach Dye and to coach Bill Carson (track). I was interested in (both sports). Believe it or not, they gave me a half-football, half-track scholarship as a freshman.”

That lasted all of a couple games into the football season when it was apparent that Hicks was going to be a gridiron star at East Carolina.

“Yeah…after a few games, they gave me a full scholarship for football and wouldn’t let me run track anymore.”

More than the opportunity to run track, it was Coach Dye that lured Hicks to East Carolina.

“Really, I just wanted to be at East Carolina,” Hicks said. “Pat recruited me as a tight end, which I knew I didn’t want to play. But he was just a great man and I wanted to play for him. When I got there, I said, ‘Pat, you run a Wishbone, and I don’t want to play tight end. I want to play running back.’

“Now, we had seven running backs at East Carolina who could have played anywhere, and I mean that, and Coach Dye still gave me a chance to play running back.”

At East Carolina, Hicks found the same mentorship that he had craved and needed as a youth in men like Dye and running backs coach Ken Hutchinson as well as longtime ECU assistant coach Henry Trevathan.

“Coach Hutchinson (knew) I was a running back from the beginning,” Hicks said. “Ken and his family were outstanding to all of us (running backs) and the rest of the team, too. It was amazing.”

And Hicks, when recalling his running backs coach, couldn’t go without saying that things were a little different back then when you were running the Wishbone.

“Back then, we had a very small offensive line that did a great job,” he said. “The backs had to run and block. That’s right, block. If you couldn’t block as a running back, you simply couldn’t play back in my day. Now, today, backs basically just run the ball, but in the Wishbone, I’m telling you, in Pat Dye’s Wishbone, running backs had to block and block well.”

Hicks attributes the Pirates’ successes, playing against more established programs, to the ability the coaches had to leverage the family atmosphere for extreme motivation.

“I look at these Pirates and I think, ‘We didn’t have near the quality of athletes they have or the facilities, or the comforts — why can’t (the current Pirates) win?’” Hicks mused. “I think over the past several years it comes down to coaches knowing how to motivate kids. You have got to motivate as a coach. If you want to know what motivation is about, you gotta talk about a guy like Henry Trevathan. Now that was a motivator. I’m telling you, he would get out in practice and get it done. I remember one day, a huge fight broke out between a couple of guys and Henry got right in there between them to break it up. You don’t expect that from a guy that would get blown away in a light wind… all of 160 pounds, maybe. But when he got in there, he broke that thing up because (the players) respected him.

“And Coach Dye… when he told you to do something, you just did it. He had a great, great staff who brought it from the beginning of a meeting, right out onto the field every day.”

Hicks continued, describing a typical Dye-era practice session.

“We might run a half-line against a defense with an extra linebacker or two — unblocked,” he described. “And we would run a play 20 times with the defense knowing exactly where the ball was going. Pat would say, ‘If you can get three yards against a defense that knows where you are going with the ball, then imagine what you can do against a team that doesn’t know where it’s going.’ When you played for Pat Dye, you were going to be prepared mentally, that’s for sure.”

And it wasn’t always motivation through shear force.

“Pat knew how to get to players individually, too,” Hicks said. “He really could. He could always keep you laughing. I remember one time; he brought Bear Bryant up to see us. Now, the Bear, that’s a legend you’re talking about… right here, in front of us. Coach Dye did things like that.”

There was more to the player-coach bond.

“Most of all, Pat was very loyal,” he said. “His door was always open and what you told him, stayed with him. Being on that football team was really like being part of a large family. People you could really trust.”

Among the “family” were some players that hold a piece of Hicks’ heart to this day, though he admits that he has probably forgot to mention many in his recollections.

“You know, we had great games against North Carolina State and North Carolina and we beat them,” he said. “Back then, they really were powerhouse programs with all the advantages, but we beat them with speed and a whole lot of heart. Those are the kind of guys we had on that team.”

Hicks thinks back on some of his former teammates and friends.

“Take a guy like (Mike) Weaver,” he said of his former quarterback. “He was a little man with a heart like a lion. He would take the ball looking for the hit and then pitch as he was getting (whacked) and I’d be gone.

“We were a very close team. Cary Godette, Zack Valentine, Harold Randolph, Jimbo Walker, Theodore Sutton, Leander Green, Sam Harrell, Gerald Hall… there are so many. Yeah, no doubt we were very close. Everything on the field and in the locker room stayed there. We were all very disciplined and Coach didn’t treat nobody differently. It didn’t matter if you were an All-America candidate or a walk-on."

Dye even structured practice on this premise.

“We used to have ‘Purple’ backs and ‘Blue’ backs,” Hicks explained. “The purple backs were the starters and the blue backs were the second stringers. If you didn’t perform in a game, come Monday, you’d be the one wearing the blue jersey. It happened to me. I remember one practice, Wayne Bolt (OL) turned around and looked back at me and said, ‘Hey, where are the purple backs?’

“That wasn’t funny.”

Of course, come game time throughout his career, Hicks was always a purple back, but the point was deep and long lasting with Hicks and his teammates. And he and those teammates were part of a four-year run of success (33-11-1) that included wins over UNC-CH and State, a Southern Conference Championship (1976), and an Independence Bowl victory (35-13 over Louisiana Tech in 1978).

For Hicks individually, he notched himself as one of an elite group of outstanding Pirates backs. He still holds the longest rush from scrimmage for a TD with his 95-yard gallop against William & Mary. Though he has a plaque that states it was a 99-yarder, he won’t dicker about those four yards. For his career, Hicks piled up 2,101 yards (at a 6.4 average per carry) and scored 23 touchdowns.

Moving on after Graduation

As expected, in the 1979 NFL draft, Hicks was selected, though lower than he had thought he’d be.

“Believe it or not, I had broken my hand playing basketball and it never really healed right,” he said of his condition pre-draft. “I was taken in the sixth round by the New York Giants.”

Hicks was the 158th overall pick in the annual collegiate draft and there were high hopes for him in the pros. But, the broken hand was just the beginning of a series of injuries that cut his promising career short after three seasons.

“You know, you learn real quick that the pros is a job… it’s a business,” he said. “It requires more discipline and more hard work. If you can get through July… get through training camp, then the games are a piece of cake. And it is a totally different world… a first-class world that I would never, never trade for nothing in a lifetime.

“And the Giants, they were no doubt a family, too. Everyone on that team pulled together. One of my greatest friends on the Giants is Harry Carson, who played middle linebacker. I still keep up with him to this day. This is a man who played for 16 years and dominated the game… yet he is not in the Hall of Fame. Can you believe that?”

Largely, Hicks appreciates every minute of his stint as a professional ball player, but he accepted the end when it came.

“I played 3½ years, but when I snapped my back and pulled my groin and was never able to be at 100 percent, New York traded me to Philly to play for Ray Perkins,” Hicks said. “But, I was in pain and when you play in pain, it isn’t doing anyone any good. So, after the exhibition season, I gave it up.”

No Place Like Home

After the NFL, Hicks knew exactly where he needed to be.


Photo: Submitted

“No doubt, I was going to be back in North Carolina,” he said. “I knew a lot of people in Henderson and (the town) was very good to me, so I wanted to go home.”

Home was a bit hard on Hicks to begin with after landing a job with CVS; he was laid off just a few months into it. Thinking that football may be the only short term solution, he headed off to Canada to try and pick up his career, but the injuries were too much to overcome and he added a dislocated shoulder to go with his pre-existing conditions.

So, back to NC he went.

“I came back (from Canada) and called the man who had hired me at CVS and asked if there was anything available and he said, ‘no’,” Hicks said. “But, then he called me back and said he had a job, so I took it. Ended up there for 20 years. I was a shipper, coordinator, supervisor… all the way up to receiver. You know, football taught me discipline… to focus on doing your job and that is what I did and it made things happen for me.”

Though his career was with the popular pharmacy chain, his passion also was rekindled in a different way when he moved home to Henderson.

“I got involved with (Vance County) Recreation through a guy named Ralph Peace,” Hicks said. “Ralph was the man who started me on a weight program when I was young. He took me under his wing and trained me. He helped me get around when I was older, letting me use his car… he was one of those people that I called when I was in college. In fact, one time I had a collapsed lung while I was at East Carolina and he came up to see me. The love was really there. And the Director of Recreation, Chuck Grubbs gave a lot and helped me a lot. I wanted to get involved… I had to give back to the people who gave me so much in my life.”

As he has for many years, today Eddie Hicks is working with kids through the recreation department. He still works in the pharmacy world, only now with Kerr Drugs (for the past two years).

He teaches tennis and he’s coached junior high football with his old mentor Lonnie Davis. He even spent a dozen years coaching on the staff with the Henderson High Bulldogs. But, it hasn’t been without a little disappointment that comes from a changing world.

“I was brought up to always look out for kids and your elders,” he said. “They are the most important things on Earth. You can’t just push your elders to the side. I teach tennis and I coached junior high football and then at Henderson. It seems that the parents today — not all of them — but enough of them, do not want to discipline kids. So when you volunteer for kids and you are out there trying to share things that you hope will help them understand the value of discipline, it can be frustrating. You know, I never had a kid that played sports, so for me to be out there working with other kids — because that’s how much I love the game of football — takes a lot.

“I see kids coming late for practice, not showing up and sometimes, I think, ‘Why waste your time unless you really want to do this?’ But, it is in me to coach even though most of the time you don’t get any credit. Now at my young age (49), I try to enjoy life and I can never turn a kid down. I’ve taught a lot of other kids and adults how to coach and I’ve worked with some kids who are playing now at colleges and it makes you feel good that you are part of there life and their successes. That you had something to do with them getting out and going to college… that is the reward for coaching.

Wish: Let the Pirate Echoes Be Heard

These days, Hicks is pretty occupied doing those things he loves most. He is a big football fan… a big Pirate fan that “rarely misses a home game.”  And, he has some things to say about ECU in relation to his era.

“As a fan, I am generally a quiet critic,” he said. “I watch and I might analyze how (the team) did something and how I might have done it differently. Look, East Carolina’s got a great program… they really do. As far as I’m concerned, since 1975 to now they are the finest university in the country and I mean that. But there are some things that concern me.

“My dream for East Carolina is for them (the institution as a whole) to get back to treating folks right. I believe everything is in God’s hands and when you mistreat some one, things get bad, but when you treat people right, things turn around quick. They’ve got to clear up a dark cloud that is hanging over them right now. I’m talking about giving Pat and his athletes their due.”

Hicks gets very serious and focused when it comes to his coach and his teammates and there has been a burning issue with him since his days as a Pirates star.

“I became a Pirates Club member when I got drafted and am so to this day,” he said. “I’ve put money, sweat, and blood into East Carolina… gave back like I should, like we all (former players) should. But ECU has got to give back as well. There are guys from ECU playing in the pros today that don’t give a dime back to the program, but are sitting in that (ECU) Hall of Fame, while a coach like Pat Dye isn’t in.”


Eddie Hicks on his beloved Harley
(Photo: Submitted)

Hicks cannot hide his emotions on this point.

“It’s like what I was saying about Harry Carson not being in the (NFL) Hall,” he continued. “It’s been the same at ECU. (Those in charge) insult Coach Dye by not inducting him. It’s not just an insult to Coach Dye and his players, but to ECU itself. Are they waiting for (Dye and his athletes) to be dead? I really hate to judge here, but Pat’s record and work at ECU stands for itself. Why he is not in the Hall of Fame is mind-boggling… it is an insult to everything.”

Though he would not say it, Hicks is just as confused as to why he and his teammates seem to be ignored when it comes time for induction.

“There are a lot of players from my time that should be considered,” Hicks said.

He is aware that there are some, like Leander Green, Zack Valentine, and Wayne Inman that have been enshrined, and he is very, very thankful that one in particular was inducted… Cary Godette (Hall of Fame class of 1979).

“Honestly, there was not a man on a football field (during Godette’s years) who could handle that man,” Hicks said. “Nobody, nobody wanted a piece of him. I thought I was great running back but I’ll tell you that in practice, I never went over near Cary… no way was I fooling with him. If I had to, I’d try to screen him off, but I’m not crazy enough to try and go after him.”

Still, he feels strongly that the era was huge in the development of ECU football.

“In our years, we put East Carolina on the (football) map with leadership, character and class,” he said. “And after all of these years, you know, after what we did, the teams that came behind us, looked at our accomplishments and said, ‘We can do the same.’

“We were the inspiration to a lot of teams after us. Where (ECU) has lost it in the last few years is that either the kids are not listening to the coaches or the coaches are not listening to the players.”

Hicks gives an example from his past.

“I remember once Pat came to me and said, ‘Eddie, do you like me?’ And I said, ‘Why do you ask?’ Then he said, ‘Because if we don’t win these games, I won’t have a job here any more.’ So I told him to not worry about nothing. We knew we had running backs and an offensive line that could do whatever we wanted to… really. But with all of that talent, we still had to be together on the same page with the coach and each and every guy.

“ECU has talented athletes… they have to be on the same page. They have to be motivated for success.”

He knows what he’s talking about, he lived it.

“Pat Dye had a lot of athletes with character and class,” he said. “Look around now at all of the successful athletes that he pushed out (as a coach). I would never be as successful as I am today or as I was as a player without him and his (style).”

Still Speeding Along in Life

All of that said, Hicks is still a Pirate, through and through, and cannot wait for the program to rise again. He feels every bit a part of its past and its future as he did as a player. And, he’ll keep giving, because ECU gave so much to him through the people that were the program in his days.

Hicks does his job and works with the kids, but he also takes his time to take in his surroundings in the only way he knows how: with the freedom that comes with speed.

He and his wife, Jackie, are prone to taking off on weekend excursions on the love of his life, his pristine Harley-Davidson. He really does simply need the speed.

“I rode motorcycles in college,” he said. “(Jackie) says I love it more than her. That Harley-Davidson, it is my love. It’s the same thrill I used to get when I ran with the football.”

A thrill many of us shared as we watched him do it.           

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VIEW THE PTM ARCHIVES

Ed Emory
-----
Tackle
-----
Head Coach

EDDIE HICKS Bio Box
Name:

Eddie Hicks, Gator (slippery and slide)

(Photo: ECU SID)

Age:

49
.

Sport:

Football
.

Years at ECU:

1975-79
.

Position/No.:

Running Back/ 28

Head Coach
Hometown:

Henderson, NC
.

Currently Resides:

Henderson, NC
.

Occupation:
  • CVS 20 years; Kerr Drugs, 2 years

  • Recreation Department, Henderson-Vance County

Degree(s):

Physical Education - East Carolina University 
 

Marital Status/Spouse:

Married, Jackie
 

Children:
  • Karen
  • Jennifer Annette
Quotable:
 
“I became a Pirate Club member when I got drafted and am so to this day. I’ve put money, sweat, and blood into East Carolina… gave back like I should, like we all (former players) should. But ECU has got to give back as well. There are guys from ECU playing in the pros today that don’t give a dime back to the program, but are sitting in that (ECU) Hall of Fame, while a coach like Pat Dye isn’t in.”
 

TEN QUESTIONS

1. Who is your favorite current Pirate and Why?

“Gotta go with Marvin Townes. It’s the speed.”
.

2. What do you miss most about ECU?

“I miss being around the players…the comeraderie.”
.

3. Where is your favorite spot on the ECU campus?

“The Elbo Room and the Attic.”
.

4. What was your dorm room and favorite dorm story?

“I lived in Belk Dorm. I really can’t share any of the stories because I was little a wild back then.”
.

5. Greatest Moment as a Pirate football player?

“The Carolina ballgame, no doubt.”
.

6. Most disliked opponent?

“Carolina, State and Duke, really got me up to play. Back then, those teams were really big-time programs. If you could beat them back then, you could beat anyone.”
.

7. Athletic Influences?

“To me, the greatest of them all was Mercury Morris. He had the greatest speed and elusiveness. I always admired Hollywood Henderson and Jack Lambert.”
.
.

8. Favorite coach?

“Ain’t no doubt about  it, it was Pat Dye.”
.

9. Best Locker Room Story

“I remember Coach Dye would motivate us all the time. I remember somebody found the Ram for the Carolina game… that was great. Coaches always have stories and they might not have been true, but they could really get you going.”
.

10. Best Emerald City hangout?

“The Elbo Room and the Attic.”
.

 

View the Pirate Time Machine Archives...

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02/23/2007 02:13:23 PM

 

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