The name should sound familiar to rabid college football fans in Louisiana, particularly those of LSU.
After waiting until Friday night to make a selection in the 2012 NFL draft, the Saints went defense for the best player on their board with the 89th pick overall, in the third round.
That player is defensive tackle Akiem Hicks, a 6.4.5, 318-pound player from the University of Regina in Canada. He has good reach with arm length of over 35 inches.
Hicks was part of Les Miles' 2009 recruiting class at LSU but never saw the field in Tiger Stadium in a game. Hicks came to LSU from Sacramento City Community College via Del Campo High in Elk Grove, California.
The NCAA ruled that Hicks received improper (impermissible) transportation and lodging during an unofficial visit to LSU prior to enrollment and received a number of improper (impermissible) phone calls from LSU wide receivers coach D.J. McCarthy.
The violations ultimately cost McCarthy his job at LSU and Hicks an opportunity to play for the Tigers.
The transportation involved an LSU student who worked in the athletic department picking up Hicks and other transportation provided by the student and other LSU athletes in illegal fashion. Prior to signing, transportation cannot be provided by members of the school recruiting the prospective student-athlete. In addition, McCarthy set up housing for Hicks at the apartment of a former LSU football player, which was also an NCAA violation. Hicks and the other player then mislead NCAA compliance officials when questioned about the matter.
LSU fired a pre-emptive strike, self-reporting the violations to the NCAA in March of 2010 and self-imposed the loss of two scholarships in 2011.
As a result, LSU was placed on probation by the NCAA for one year and incurred a reduction in prospects allowed to make official visits over a two-year period.
For his part, Hicks pleaded his innocence in a pre-draft interview with Pro Football Weekly.
"I had no idea that it was a violation and that it was illegal for me to be staying in a former player's apartment because of the fact that I was paying rent," Hicks told PFW in a phone interview. "If I were to not be paying rent, OK, there might be something fishy. But for a young man to come across the country, Sacramento to Baton Rouge, get an apartment, get a job — I was working as a janitor at the condominium and I was paying $500 in rent a month at that time. For that to be a violation, I thought it was unreal.
"I didn't understand at the time, or to this day. All those things are in the past, and I've had to deal with them. It was a trying experience. It was something that I've matured and grown from."
In the same interview in Pro Football Weekly, Hicks said he feels that is best suited as a three-technique player but that he is versatile.
"There were even some plays where I stood up, playing a blitzing 'Mike' linebacker," he said. "The reason for that was because they felt I was athletic enough to maneuver my way into gaps and explode into gaps from different angles."
In his first season at Regina in 2010, Hicks had 24 tackles and 1½ sacks. He was selected in the United Football League draft by the Omaha Nighthawks after his first year but chose to remain at Regina to pursue his degree and improve his potential NFL draft standing.
The move paid off.
In 2011, Hicks he had 42 tackles, 6.5 sacks and was named Canada West's outstanding lineman. His coach at Regina said that Hicks was frequently double-teamed, which curtailed his statistics.
Frank McCrystal explained that by the second half of 2011, Hicks became an "incredible player" and he was running guys down on the Canadian wide field. His superb play got him an invite to the East-West Shrine Game, where he made enough favorable impressions to earn what is thought to be the first Combine invitation ever for a player from the CIS, according to the PFW story.
McCrystal went on to describe Hicks in the story.
"He has incredible power in his legs and his hips and gets off on the ball very quickly," said McCrystal. "(Hicks has) long arms, big hands — he is certainly someone that, when he gets up in your face, it's very challenging to throw the ball over (him). NFL quarterbacks are big dudes these days; he's a guy that, in the face of a quarterback, would be difficult throw over."
Hicks' performance at Regina in 2011 earned him an invite to the NFL Combine at Indianapolis. To prepare for the Combine, Hicks trained in Florida with former LSU teammates Michael Brockers, who ended up as a first-round draft pick as a defensive lineman by St. Louis, and linebacker Ryan Baker.
"That guy is the strongest guy I know," Brockers said of Hicks from the Combine to PFW.
The Saints hope McCrystal and Brockers are right.
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