by Steve Geller, Steve@wwl.com,posted May 1 2012 12:17PM
When Willie Roaf stepped up to the podium and called the name Akiem Hicks as the Saints 3rd round draft pick, many Who Dats were left scratching their heads. Who is this kid and where is Regina University?
Well, you'll have to go north of the border to find this college. It's in the Saskatchewan providence of Canada.
The Regina Rams are coached by Frank McCrystal, who tells us that the Saints are getting a player who fights for what he desires.
"He really wanted this, and I think it really speaks well to his character that... the kind of commitment that he made, that he could have given up. You know after the things he ran into with the recruiting at LSU, but he didn't. He came up here and it's a different game."
Wait, did he say LSU? Ok, here's an abbreviated version of the story.
Hicks began his college career at Sacramento City College. After the '08 season, he was rated as a top junior college player and signed to play at LSU. Recruiting violations by the LSU program made him ineligible for the 2009 season and unable to transfer to another American football program. An NCAA probe said that the then Tigers wide receivers coach, D.J. McCarthy, gave Hicks unauthorized transportation as well as free and discounted lodging. There were also violations regarding impermissible phone calls.
So what was Hick's next move? Well, he began working at a DirecTV call center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. But, he never gave up on his dream of playing football. The Toronto Argonauts helped keep the fire burning by offering him a contract. He considered it, but really wanted the experience of playing college ball...and that's where Frank McCrystal comes in.
McCrystal has been the head football coach at the University of Regina since 1999, when it joined the CIS (Canadian Interuniversity Sport). He first heard about Hicks while at the 2010 East-West Shrine Game in Orlando, Fla. He then flew to Denver, drove to Colorado Springs and had lunch with Hicks and his mother.
They would continue talking, and finally Hicks decided that he would head to Canada to play college ball in hopes of one day making it to the NFL.
In his first season at Regina, Hicks had 24 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Then in year two he made 42 tackles with 6.5 sacks and was named the Canada West Universities Athletic Association's top lineman. A strong performance in the 2012 East-West Shrine Game really increased his profile with NFL scouts including the Saints.
"He dominated (in the Shrine Game)," New Orleans assistant coach Joe Vitt said. "He played really well. He threw some bodies around in there, and I think that's where people really started to notice this guy. He has the pass rush ability, the feet and the hands. When you're getting ready for the third round, you want to get a guy that has some redeeming qualities of greatness that you can work with. You can't coach size and quickness and what this guy is on the hoof. We're excited about it."
At 6 foot 5, 318 pounds Akiem Hicks is a mountain of a man. Will he be able to transition his skills to the NFL game now? That's the big question. You have to believe in what the Saints see in this kid. Tight end Jimmy Graham was a raw talent coming out of college having only played football for one year, and look how he's turned out.
The thing that really strikes me about Hicks is that he isn't going to take this 2nd chance for granted. After getting selected by the Saints, he was extremely happy to full his dream especially after the detour it took on his path. "It's been a long one and a rough one at times. It's been a journey, and I have learned a lot the whole way. I just appreciate everything that has been given to me and been taken from me because it has made me who I am today."