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Rise to prominence was hardly a given for Air Force safety Brodie Hicks

December 23, 2016 Updated: December 23, 2016 at 4:03 pm
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photo - Brodie Hicks - The Air Force Academy Falcons hosted Hawaii Saturday, October 22, 2016 at Falcon Stadium. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
Brodie Hicks - The Air Force Academy Falcons hosted Hawaii Saturday, October 22, 2016 at Falcon Stadium. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

Brodie Hicks has been in a reflective mood lately.

The Air Force senior safety has been thinking about when he first played football as a third grader at the old Falcon Middle School. How he made a switch from a lifelong offensive player to a defensive starter for the Falcons and how, as a senior, he elevated his play to earn high-level accolades.

"I kind of look back everything and look now, 18 years later, and it's weird," said Hicks, the local product who earned second-team All-Mountain West accolades and was named by Pro Football Focus as a first-team All-American when looking at players from Group of Five conferences.

That he would end up as a respected safety was hardly a forgone conclusion when he moved from receiver midway through his freshman year, a move he didn't see coming until then-receivers coach Mike Thiessen told him out of the blue that's what the staff had decided for him.

"He started as a guy who, really, the first couple of practices you just thought, 'This guy is never going to get it,'" said fellow safety Hayes Linn, who split time with Hicks at the beginning of last year before Hicks won the job. "That's what we all thought. You turn around and look at the progression and through this year. After that Fresno game, he really had a coming out party with those two interceptions. He's figured it out. It just clicked."

Hicks said he was confused by his assignments on defense during the regular season after his move. But during spring ball a series of injuries pushed him to the second team, and he had to learn on the fly.

That, and he fully bought into the move. Moving from offense to defense is no small thing, and that was aided by a reshuffling of the coaching staff after a 2-10 season.

"Coach Rud (John Rudzinski) and Coach (Steve) Russ became the defensive backs coaches and they were like, 'From now on, Air Force's defensive backs are going to be the most physical DBs in this league.' Everything they said about the fanatical effort and just being part of the bigger brotherhood, it just really sank in."

Hicks became a starter, ranked fourth on the team with 67 tackles and made two interceptions last year. It was solid, but it wasn't anything close to what Weston Steelhammer was doing at the other safety position, where he was just named a first-team All-Mountain West performer for the third consecutive year, an All-American by several publications and the active leader in the NCAA with 17 career interceptions.

Hicks did the logical thing. He tried to emulate Steelhammer.

"I'd always just look at Wes and say, 'How's he doing all that?'" Hicks said. "He just knows where to be and what to do. So I started watching his film a lot more and I started realizing he knows where he's going and what he's going to do because he just has that sense for the ball. I started talking to him a little bit more and he's basically one of my best friends now, and I think that's elevated my game. Just Wes being out there picks everyone else up."

This year Hicks is second on the team with 70 tackles heading into the Dec. 30 Arizona Bowl against South Alabama. He has four interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. According to Pro Football Focus, he missed only two tackles and led the nation in tackling efficiency.

"It was all a surprise to me," Hicks said of the praise that's been heaped upon him. "I look around the league and there's a ton of good safeties out there, with Wes being probably the premier safety in the Mountain West. Just being categorized close to Wes, that, to me, was one of the biggest honors I could ever have."

Will this steady climb continue at the next level? Hicks, a standout track athlete in high school with a wide skill set also honed in basketball, isn't sure if he'll participate in Air Force's pro day this winter in preparation for the NFL draft. Doing so would take time away from the slopes, and he's not sure it's worth it.

Hicks has already completed one unexpected rise to prominence. His initial indifference toward the next level just might be setting the stage for another.

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