BY JEFF FALK
PALMYRA – Our society recognizes rights of passage in a variety of ways. Birthdays are noted. Christian teens are confirmed. Students graduate.
Great middle linebackers sign national letters-of-intent.
On Wednesday afternoon, Palmyra High School and its sports community celebrated senior Jon Hicks’ matriculation to Division One athletics. By signing on the dotted line, the senior linebacker pledged to attend the university of Connecticut and compete for the Huskies’ entrant in the Big East football conference.
Hicks was one of eight Cougars to sign national letters-of-intent on Wednesday, which was national signing day across the country, the date on which scholastic student-athletes formally commit to colleges and univerities. The staged event, which was held in the high school’s auditorium, was attended by about 100 interested parties, mostly family, friends and coaches of the signees.
“It just finalized my committment to UConn,” said Hicks. “Today was the official day that I became a Husky.”
And Hicks did so with enthusiasm and spirit. Hicks seemingly never wavered in his commitment to the University of Connecticut, a pursuit that ultimately began eight years ago.
“Coach (Carl) Deiner did everything for me,” said Hicks. “He started training me in the seventh grade. And (head) coach (Chris) Pope taught me the way of the warrior. He made a solid football player out of me.”
“Jon is obviously a tremendous student-athlete,” said Pope. “He epitomizes the word ‘warrior’. Every day for the last four years Jon has worked dilligently towards his goal of attaining a Division One football scholarship. Today that dream becomes a reality. I can’t express in words how proud I am of him and fortunate I feel to have had the opportunity to coach Jon. Jon has earned my highest level of respect and I look forward to watching his future unfold.”
After receiving interest and offers from several mid-level Division One programs, Hicks verbally committed to UConn before Palmyra’s 2011 season began this fall. By accepting the Huskies’ athletic grant-in-aid, the entire cost of Hicks’ pursuit of a kinesiology degree will be waved.
“In the summer,” remembered Hicks, “on my way to (a recruiting visit) to Rutgers, when they (the Huskies) offered me. I just realized it was where I wanted to be.”
With the worry of his college choice out of the way, Hicks was free to concentrate on his final scholastic football season. And what a season it was.
A mobile, strong, hard-hitting linebacker and guard on offense, the 6-3, 245-pound Hicks led the Cougars to a 9-3 overall record, their first playoff appearance in program history and their initial District Three Class AAA postseason win. He logged 140 tackles, 15 of which went for a loss in yardage, inlcuding 4.5 sacks.
Hicks was rated by ESPN as the 25th finest inside linebacker in the country and the 24th overall recruit for the state of Pennsylvania. He recently capped off his senior campaign by being selected to compete in the 2012 Big 33 senior all-star football game, June 16 in Hershey.
“We had a great run this year,” said Hicks. “I’ll never forget what we did this year.”
This fall, UConn went 5-7 overall and compiled a 2-4 mark in the Big East Conference.
“It’s definitely one of the fastest growing Division One schools in the country,” said Hicks. “Two Big East titles. Eleven All-Americans. They’ve really made a name for themselves. They’re not just a basketball school.”
While both a beginning and an end of a journey for Hicks, Wednesday was made even more special by the fact that he got to share it with fellow college-bound classmates.
“Overall, it was a great day,” said Hicks. “We’ve been friends all along. We’re just all very grateful to the people who got us here today.”