Strong man Hickey anchors Syracuse line

The strongest man on the Syracuse roster has spent the winter and spring getting, well, stronger.

He had to.

Left tackle Sean Hickey went through the NFL draft evaluation process, eventually opting to return to school for his senior season after being graded anywhere from a third-to-fifth round selection. One of the biggest reasons he came back was to develop the strength in his lower body, which he hopes improves his draft grade.

During winter conditioning, Hickey worked his legs until he could barely walk with a combination of strength training and body building exercises. On Tuesdays, he concentrated on heavy squatting, then did an extra circuit of leg extensions, leg presses and leg curls. On Fridays, he would do more manual exercise like jumps and split squats to get blood flowing into his muscles. Then Saturdays, he would condition his legs to get ready for another grueling workout the following week.

He also has added five pounds and is up to 299, with the goal to play at 305 when the season begins. So far during spring practice, Hickey has felt a difference on the field.

“Definitely I can see it in my movement, it allows me to play lower,” Hickey says.

Syracuse will once again be relying on Hickey to anchor the offensive line. This is a group that has been in flux throughout the spring because of injuries and one suspension. About the only certainty is that Hickey will once again be the left tackle, where he has come into his own since replacing NFL draft pick Justin Pugh last season.

“He’s been great,” offensive coordinator George McDonald said of Hickey’s leadership on the line. “He’s been able to be the calming influence among the line that [center] Macky MacPherson was last year so he’s been able to get those guys, have private meetings, get them to understand what the standard is to be a Syracuse offensive lineman.”

For Hickey, an iron will brought him to this point. After suffering through knee injuries early in his career, Hickey developed a drive to succeed in the weight room, where he pushed himself beyond the pain. That conditioned him to play through pain at times throughout his career. Last season, for example, he was listed as doubtful for the Boston College game with a high ankle sprain but ended up playing.

“If you can physically play through it, if the body part is not going to fail on you, then it’s not a big issue,” Hickey said. “Yeah, it’s going to hurt but you just get through it.

“I learned that when I was hurt in the weight room. I went in every day with our strength coach, Will Hicks. It was me and him one on one every day, and it was mostly body building stuff, which is really high reps. That’s when your muscles burn the most. Going through that and pushing it so hard in that period, it taught me how to push my muscles further than I think they can go. It tells me how to train harder.”

Hickey says he feels stronger now than at any point in his career. Lifts that were once extremely challenging now go up a little bit easier. What helped was starting offseason training with heavier weights right off the bat. He can still bench press 525 pounds, a number he hit last summer. Coaches won’t let him go higher because they keep repeated over and over: he’s a football player, not a body builder.

His bench press reps of 225 pounds -- the weight they test with at the NFL combine -- remain at 41, though he wants to improve that number in the summer, when the strength training plan for his legs begins all over again.