July 26, 2004 BLACKSBURG Put yourself in the uncomfortable summer shoes of the Virginia Tech football staff for a moment. It's early July. The status of quarterback Marcus Vick, running back Mike Imoh and wide receiver Brenden Hill is uncertain at best, as they await appeals for May convictions on charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Vick also will be tried this fall for reckless driving and possession of marijuana.
The status of a scholarship waiting for Rod Council, a top secondary recruit from Charlotte, is still up in the air as he continues to work on completing probation to clear him of charges in connection with a January arrest for stealing computer equipment.
Along comes safety Kent Hicks, and the highly touted prospect wants to be a Hokie. A Tech program that has been placed under the microscope all spring and summer will be subjected to more of the unwanted spotlight if Hicks, fresh off an admissions department rejection at new ACC rival Maryland, is invited to come to Blacksburg.
How do you handle the situation? Take Hicks, thus improving your 2004 recruiting class with a player who might be ready to play right away, but will bring more scrutiny to your program based on questions regarding his academics? Or avoid reproach, and Hicks, altogether?
Well, Tech chose the first option regarding Hicks, and as expected inquiries regarding the handling of his recruitment immediately arose. But Tech's and Maryland's head coaches remained mum about anything having to do with Hicks for at least the first few weeks following his addition to the Hokies' roster.
It's a sign of the times in Blacksburg.
Hicks, a 6-2, 205-pounder from Culpeper County High in Virginia, was rated the nation's 12th-best safety prospect on signing day by the Rivals recruiting site. He was released from his scholarship at Maryland on July 6.
Though Hicks was given the academic OK by the NCAA Clearinghouse, several media outlets correctly reported that Hicks was let go by the Terrapins because he didn't meet Maryland's academic standards, and that the Maryland coaches wanted him to attend prep school. (See page six for more details.) Universities are not required to provide a reason for releasing a player from his scholarship when they fill out the necessary paperwork, and the Terps didn't go into any detail in Hicks' case.
When Hicks was spurned by Maryland, he immediately turned his attention to Tennessee and Tech, two programs that recruited him heavily in the winter. Tennessee had no scholarships immediately available, but Tech did. So the Hokies wasted no time in bringing Hicks into the fold.
There's little question that Tech is getting a special talent in Hicks, a kid who had 18 interceptions over the last three seasons and hits like a ton of bricks. He played all over the field quarterback, receiver, safety, punter and return specialist, among others and excelled at nearly every aspect of the game, adding 26 receptions for 505 yards as a senior.
Hicks may have the projected football skill of a DeAngelo Hall or a Jimmy Williams, but the cynics had a popular question: What kind of message does it send that fellow ACC foe Maryland wouldn't take him but Tech would? A better question might have been this: If Maryland had a chance to admit a prospect who met that university's unique standards but not Tech's, wouldn't the Terps say yes, too?
Hicks, Tech and Maryland have been relatively quiet regarding the issue of Hicks' late addition, which incidentally could bump Tech's 2004 recruiting class above that of in-state rival Virginia's, at least in terms of preliminary overall talent evaluations.
Jim Cavanaugh, Tech's recruiting coordinator and strong safeties and outside linebackers coach, refused to comment on Hicks in July. He said he'd "been told not to talk about it." Tech coach Frank Beamer and Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen didn't return phone calls on the topic.
Hicks was unavailable for comment at his home for more than a week after he signed a grant-in-aid at Tech, answering questions only for one of his hometown newspapers. He even refused to talk about the situation during an introductory interview on Beamer's official website.
Those were strange reactions for strange circumstances. But none of it was entirely unexpected, especially considering the manner in which Tech has handled its media dealings this summer. Beamer and Jim Weaver, Tech's athletic director, have avoided interrogation regarding the Vick/Hill/Imoh case, refusing to return phone calls.
One of the only times Weaver provided any public insight on Vick, Hill and Imoh was when he released a statement in May. It promised to punish the three players but didn't provide specifics. Then, Weaver's hand was forced in July, after Vick was arrested in Virginia for driving 88 mph in a 65 mph zone, while carrying two bags of marijuana in his pocket. Only then did Weaver detail suspensions for the players three games for Hill and Imoh, and an indefinite suspension for Vick.
Hicks Admission Nothing Unusual
Tech has been down a similar road before, with a sought-after secondary recruit who had some well-publicized trouble off the field. Two years ago, Tech was hot on the trail of Philip Brown from Phoebus High in Hampton.
Brown was a 5-11, 185-pound recruit, considered by most recruiting analysts to be one of the nation's 10 best cornerback prospects. But poor grades plagued Brown, and red flags went up in Tech's recruiting war room.
Tech recruited him hard through November 2002, but the phone calls from Blacksburg stopped coming in December, according to Brown. Brown wound up signing a scholarship at UVa, and he attended Hargrave Military Academy last year, after initially coming up well short academically. He will begin his freshman year in Charlottesville this fall.
Obviously, it's Tech's prerogative to recruit who it wants, when it wants, and to stop recruiting a player for any reason and at any time. Some have suggested that because Hicks barely got by academically, and Maryland suggested he attend a prep school, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of difference between the Hicks and Brown situations.
On the contrary, Brown was a clear non-qualifier under NCAA rules, and Hicks is a close but clear qualifier by the same standard. Every university makes its own decisions about how to handle prospects such as Hicks, who barely met NCAA minimums, but the Hokies' oft-criticized call certainly didn't set them apart from most of their new counterparts.
In the 11-team ACC, everyone except Duke, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest takes at least a few academic question marks every year. In the cases of Clemson, Florida State and N.C. State, in particular, the number of risks often is a much larger one. The Hokies likely hope to land somewhere in the middle on this matter, but if they have to lean one way or the other, it won't be in the direction of the Devils and the Deacons, two of the losingest programs in the history of Division I-A football.