COLUMBUS – Year one was a learning year for “Captain Buckeye” CJ Hicks, a nickname earned on the recruiting trail by the five-star linebacker for his recruiting prowess and love of his college destination.
When the Buckeyes made the change to a base package of a 4-2-5, the ‘two’ took a linebacker position off the board in most instances and made the competition for linebacker reps much fiercer.
Add into the mix the fact that Steele Chambers and Tommy Eichenberg saw the majority of the reps with a dash of Cody Simon along the way and the 2022 season was not set up to be a breakout year for Ohio State’s “next big thing”.
But that has not deterred Hicks as he is spending this spring getting read as he always would, even if Chambers and Eichenberg are back, and the system is not in line for any significant changes.
Often, we hear about “trusting the system” and “waiting your turn” and that all sounds great in theory, but when you were one of the nation’s top-25 players in your class, regardless of position, it has to be a major adjustment going from ‘Mr. Everything’ to special teams and waiting your turn.
“I feel like I am ready,” Hicks said when asked if he felt that he was ready to contribute on the field at his position of linebacker. “But I’m gonna trust coach (Jim) Knowles and whatever his decision is. Like I say, I trust God as well.”
Hicks was not the only linebacker that saw fewer reps than they had hoped for with the amount of time that Chambers and Eichenberg were on the field. Everyone goes into the season with hopes of seeing significant playing time, but few are ever really satisfied with the number of snaps that they see.
“I thought we were going to rotate a little bit more,” Hicks admitted, “Like I said, I’m just trusting Coach Knowles’ system, we have a great defensive coordinator, we have a great system. Whatever he wants us to do, we’re going to do it.”
A position in Knowles’ system is the “Jack” or the “Leo” position, a spot that Ohio State never really utilized much in 2022. An injury to Mitchell Melton in camp took him out of the mix and nobody was able to really pick up the spot and run with it.
With Jack Sawyer moving back to more of a traditional defensive end role, could Hicks be in line for reps at that spot?
“I haven’t talked to (coach Knowles) about it yet,” Hicks said. “I have seen certain things. I’m not going take anything serious until he comes to me and talks to me about it.”
A move to this position or at least having it added to his duties would not be a bad thing if that is what the Buckeyes decide.
“I feel like I can be a good player at the Jack,” Hicks said. “In high school I rushed the passer a lot. I feel like I can get to the quarterback, for sure.”
Whatever it takes to help the team is on the agenda for Hicks. He has seen how special teams can help any player, regardless of position played and regardless of what their ranking was in high school.
The stars do not matter now, that is all ancient history and players will be judged on what they are doing now and in the future.
“In high school, I didn’t pay attention to rankings, I paid attention to it obviously, but I didn’t really care about (it),” Hicks said. “Because at the end of the day, guys that weren’t ranked as high… (guys like) C.J. (Stroud) was like a three star and look at him now. He’s a top-five pick in my opinion, best quarterback in the draft. You have to want to be great. You have got to have that drive to be great.”
And Hicks has shown that through his entire athletic career, it may be taking him a little bit longer than hoped to get that opportunity, but bet against Hicks at your own peril.