Elijah Hicks knows how it feels to want. To not have everything he needed. To be unsure what he was eating or where he was living next.
Now a rising senior safety on the Cal football team, Hicks also was taught by his parents to help others whenever he could.
And that’s just what he’s doing.
The 20-year-old, who founded a non-profit last year called Intercept Poverty, has banded with other college football players to help raise money for another non-profit, No Kid Hungry, which is helping to feed children across the country impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hicks originally had a stated goal of raising $10,000 and a private hope of reaching $20,000. As of Sunday morning, the fund had received donations totaling more than $30,000. That included $5,000 contributions by Cameron Jordan and Nick Sundberg, a pair of former Cal players now playing in the NFL. Cal Chancellor Carol Christ donated $1,000.
“Man, it feels really good to know that during these difficult times people want to help,” Hicks said in a phone interview. “I'm really thankful for the Cal fans and alumni and my coaches, the faculty, the chancellor.
“Everybody who’s part of the Cal family has supported me to the max. It’s helped me realize I really made the right decision (to attend Cal). It’s awesome. I’m excited to see where it goes.”
Hicks spawned the idea just two days after the shelter-in-place orders were enacted, and he immediately solicited the aid of teammate & roommate Cam Bynum and former teammate Ashtyn Davis. Soon they were joined by Washington's Myles Bryant and Keith Taylor, Oregon's Jevon Holland, Utah's Terrell Burgess and former Notre Dame receiver Chase Claypool.
Together they taped and assembled a video asking others to pitch in, and posted it on social media. Go to the video and you will find a link if you would like to contribute. According to Cal’s athletic website, 100 percent of the money Hicks’ program collects goes directly to No Kid Hungry.
"We're so inspired by Elijah's willingness to get involved and help kids," Jessica Bomberg, Associate Director of Peer-To-Peer Fundraising at No Kid Hungry, told Cal. "We believe that everyone has a strength to share and can do their part to make a big impact in their own community and nationwide. Elijah is a great example of that.”
Hicks’ primary examples were his parents, Tony Hicks and Shedra Rucker. The second of 11 children — five boys and six girls — Hicks spent his early years in Long Beach, but his childhood experience was fluid.
Early on, he lived with mom and four siblings. “It was tough at the time. She was doing everything she could,” Hicks said. “I was with my dad on the weekends. In high school stuff started getting hard. I moved in with my dad and times got difficult.”
In order to attend St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower as a sophomore, Hicks moved in with other family or friends.
“We didn't have much money. I was eating Jack-in-the-Box and cheap food every day. I didn’t want to bother my parents as far as asking for more money.
“I was forced to grow up early.”
Through all of it, Hicks said he felt the “love and compassion” of so many people, none more than his mother and father. And often they provided the example he is now following.
“My parents were always volunteering and helping different people when I was growing up. As a family, we’ve always done things . . . given back. They raised me to do it.”
Still in Berkeley as classes shift to online and spring football was canceled, Hicks said the dramatic changes have forced him to adapt.
“It’s harder to focus when you're not in a classroom setting. Also not having that peer to peer interaction in person make learning a little more challenging,” he said. “Sometimes my WiFi is running slow and that affects my ability to hear.”
Hicks, who has been moved from cornerback to safety, understands there are limits to what he can do in training right now. He talks in the video below about his transition to a new position and how his personality allows him to take on a leadership role.
Hicks watches extra game tape and to stay in shape does push-ups and Pilates at home. He practices footwork at an open field and runs a brutal hill near where he lives.
Here’s a great video showing his workout regimen. During the video, Hicks said, “I hate this hill.” Asked about it on the phone, he abridged that statement. “I hate it but I love it."
“I'm just going to continue to try to perfect my craft,” he said. “I find my edge by staying on it, not having people tell me what to do. I’ve got that mindset to hold myself accountable every day.”
Hicks acknowledges he’s antsy to get back to football. But he also sees the bigger picture.
“I love football, love being a part of it, love what it teaches you . . . the adversity,” he said. “But times are hard right now and people are going through real things.”
Football will return at some point. And Elijah Hicks will be ready.
Again, here's the link to donate to No Kid Hungry.