UCLA tailback Skip Hicks is so laid-back, friends in his
hometown of Burkburnett, Texas, call him Turtle. Even when
carrying the football, he's more likely to wait behind his line
for an opening than he is to run over tacklers.
Hicks, a 6-foot, 220-pound fifth-year senior, has parlayed that
tortoise approach into hair-raising numbers this season. He ran
for 190 yards and four touchdowns in the Bruins' season-opening
37-34 loss to Washington State, 80 yards and two touchdowns (one
rushing, one receiving) in their 30-24 loss to Tennessee, and 96
yards and three touchdowns (two rushing, one receiving) in their
66-3 spanking of Texas on Sept. 13. His 18 points per game is
second best in Division I-A, and he needs just three more
touchdowns to break Gaston Green's UCLA career record of 40.
Hicks, however, is best known at UCLA for a play in which he
didn't participate: a fourth-and-goal at the Washington State
one-yard line late in the fourth quarter. After losing a yard on
first-and-goal from the Cougars' nine, Hicks took himself out of
the game for a breather and missed the next three plays. His
replacement, redshirt freshman Jermaine Lewis, was stuffed on
fourth down, and UCLA never got the ball back.
After the game, Hicks needed a turtle's shell to deflect the
criticism he and coach Bob Toledo got from Bruins fans and the
media, who questioned Hicks's resolve and Toledo's
decision-making. The remarks stung Hicks, but in keeping with
his nature he tried to move on.
As a freshman, Hicks learned about taking the good with the bad.
In the fall of 1993 he led the Bruins in rushing, with 563
yards, while starting ahead of Karim Abdul-Jabbar, now with the
Miami Dolphins. On just the second carry of his career, he ran
40 yards for a touchdown against Cal. The following spring, he
tore the ACL in his left knee while competing in the long jump
as a member of the UCLA track team.
Hicks rehabilitated the knee and returned to the gridiron in
time for the Bruins' fourth game of the 1994 season, but he was
hampered by pain much of that fall and gained only 161 yards on
40 carries. He was a medical redshirt the following year after
undergoing arthroscopic surgery on the same knee. He regained
his old form in '96, when he led UCLA in rushing, with 1,034
yards, and broke the Bruins' record for touchdowns in a season,
More important, Toledo says, Hicks came out of his shell last
season and became a leader. That turnabout came at halftime on
Nov. 23 against Southern Cal, with UCLA trailing 24-7: Annoyed
by the Bruins' lackluster performance, Hicks got in the faces of
several teammates, challenging them to raise their level of
play. Partly inspired by his outburst, UCLA won 48-41 in
Hicks, who is scheduled to graduate in May with a degree in
history, says he wants to inspire his teammates to salvage the
1997 season. The last time UCLA started 0-2, he points out, the
Bruins finished 8-4 and went to the '94 Rose Bowl. "If we play
every game the way we did against Texas," Hicks says, "we could
still go to a major bowl, maybe even the Rose Bowl."
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER [Skip Hicks in game]