For the love of the game

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Linebacker Jordan Hicks (West Chester, Ohio/Lakota West) hasn't always been the hard-hitting, blitzing nightmare that earned him back-to-back All-State honors in the Buckeye State.

Long before reaching Under Armour All-American status, the No. 2 prospect in the ESPNU 150 had dreams of success in another sport. It was Carolina blue and white, the Dean Dome and Michael Jordan. Hicks loved basketball.

"I played basketball my whole life ever since I was little," said Hicks. "Basketball was my first love. My first time ever playing football was in fifth grade in South Carolina. I played running back and safety. Then I moved to Ohio, but didn't play that year because I missed the cut off date for the league. After that, I've played football from seventh grade until now and love it."

Lakota West head coach Larry Cox remembers his first sit down conversation with Hicks entering his freshman year.

"When he came out of his eight grade year, because I knew watching him he was going to be a big-time football player, I asked what are your dreams?" Cox said. "He said I'm going to play guard at the University of North Carolina. I said you are, well, we'll see how it rolls, but keep football in the back of your mind."

"As we got through his freshman year of football and AAU basketball, he still was there with basketball, but was thinking about football. His sophomore year he started piling up offers and seeing everybody getting taller too and knew it was time to start thinking about football. By the end of his sophomore year he decided he was going to be a college football player, but he still got offers in basketball from some reputable programs."

Four years later, Hicks has become the most heavily recruited linebacker in the country with offers from coast-to-coast and his passion has changed.

"I actually like football more now. I have grown to love football more. I just love the atmosphere and knowing you can go on the field and hit someone, not worrying about fouls called and stuff," said Hicks. "If you would have asked me that a year and a half ago, it would have been basketball, but I really love playing football now."

While Cox is thrilled with his star pupil's decision to pursue a career on the gridiron, he maintains his time on the hard court has been key in Hicks' development on the field.

"I think basketball has really helped him. It's so much man-to-man, running and footwork. He's a great defender in basketball and it has helped him. He has been able to apply a lot of it on the field," Cox said.

Always humble and respectful, the five-star prospect points to his coaches as the key to his development.

"I would say the biggest part of my growth as a player has been my defensive coordinator coach (Carlton) Gray and coach Cox. Coach Gray has taught me almost everything I needed to know. That's the biggest part, knowing the game so it seems slower to you and allows you to play faster," said Hicks.

Hicks will close out his star-studded high school career on Saturday in the Under Armour All-America game (11 a.m. ET on ESPN).

"It's an honor because this is what you always dream of. I feel like I'm lucky to be here. I wouldn't be here without having good people around me to help me out. I'm out here having fun with a lot of these guys and meeting new people. I'm just ready to go out there and play," Hicks said.

In four years, Hicks will still be turning on the television to watch his first love, but will likely be living out his dream on Sundays.

Gerry Hamilton has covered recruiting in Texas and the Southwest for more than a decade. He can be reached at espngerry@yahoo.com.