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Colts 2022 Draft Interviews: Clarence Hicks, LB/EDGE, UTSA

Meet UTSA linebacker Clarence Hicks. We discuss his experience at the JUCO level, what position he fits at best, and what the future could hold in the NFL.

Clarence Hicks is an edge rusher that played his high school ball at Pine Forest in Pensacola, Florida. He started his college career at the JUCO level, opting to attend Hutchinson Community College in Kansas.

I asked Hicks about his experience at the JUCO level prior to making the jump to UTSA:

My overall experience was very humbling. I feel like it prepares you for a lot in life because you have to go really far from home to go to the best JUCO's. Going to Kansas thousands of miles away from my home was a huge adjustment for me.

JUCO is a lot different from D-1, because they are sort of trying to make you quit. They are trying to see who really lands and who the real dogs are. It's just a grind, and you gotta keep your head focused and do what you came there to do.

Hicks had an outstanding two year run with the program, as he totaled 21.5 tackles for a loss and 12 sacks in his final year with the program. His success at the program led to some interest from FBS schools, and he ultimately decided to enroll at UTSA.

I asked Hicks why he decided to play at UTSA over the other schools that pursued him:

It was a crazy, crazy time. Basically, I had an offer from East Carolina University. Rod Wright (who is now at UTSA) and the entire coaching staff at ECU got fired. He told me, "I'm going to be going to another school but wherever I go, I'm going to keep in touch with you."

He seemed like a real dude, so I always kept in touch with him. Having 12 sacks that season, I was waiting on something big to come. I was just waiting and waiting and all these schools came back and said I looked too small to be a defensive end. They just had a lot of doubts about me.

I was supposed to sign in February of 2019, but I didn't sign at UTSA until July. I reached back out to (Rod Wright) around that time, and he brought me in and we were able to get something done.  

Hicks took some time to hit his stride with the program, but finally broke out in 2021. He finished the year with 16.5 tackles for a loss, 10.5 sacks, and one interception as UTSA reached ranked status for the first time in the program's history.

For his play this past year, Hicks was named as a First-Team All C-USA selection.

Breakout So Late in His Career

While Hicks' play this past season was phenomenal, it was a massive jump from his previous two years in the stat column. In his first two years with the team, he totaled 15 tackles for a loss and just two sacks in 21 games played.

I asked Hicks what factors led to the uptick in production during his final year:

Well, my first year at UTSA, I was still adjusting, and moving to linebacker. I just didn't play a lot until the last six games. That season was really like a learning season for me. My coach told me straight up, if you want to go to the NFL, you can't play defensive end.

In the 2020 season, I went to another position, which was more like a nickel. I was still not really familiar with coverages and concepts at that point. There are so many small things that you have to be able to pick up on to make plays. I feel like I could have been a little more focused with those things to help my game.

That season was crazy too, because I led the conference in quarterback pressure rate, but I had zero sacks. I missed, like, 8+ sacks that year. I was known as the "sack-misser" on the team. It was a humbling season, because I'm a guy that relies a lot on my ability. When I was missing all of those sacks, I knew I had to change some things up.

The whole offseason (the coaches) were telling me to work on my hips. I took this last offseason very very serious. I worked a lot on finishing plays and I studied a lot on defensive coverages and tendencies to help myself a lot in coverage. That extra work really helped me have a big year this past year.

As someone that has evaluated players for a few years now, I have learned that sack production is fairly overrated, while pressure rate/production is underrated. If a pass rusher is creating pressure, eventually the sacks will come (which is what happened for Hicks in 2021).

Still, you would like for players to finish opportunities when they have them. I asked him about how the conversations were with coaches during that year. Were they positive because he was creating pressure, or negative because he wasn't producing sacks?

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The way my coaches were, they expect the best out of me. As one of the best players, they need me to step up. I was pretty down on myself for all of 2020, but I knew what I had to do and what I had to work on.

They weren't really getting on me too much, but there was a mutual understanding that I have to make those plays. Having a whole eight months without football and having that on your mind definitely motivates you.

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Position in the NFL

Hicks is an interesting projection to the NFL. He played defensive end at the JUCO level and was very productive. He made the switch to more of a linebacker/nickel position at UTSA, but was still really productive rushing the passer.

With him being a bit of a tweener in this draft cycle, I asked Hicks where his best fit is in the NFL:

That is where I feel like I stand out to these teams. I'm very very versatile. You'll see me at DE on third downs and then on the next series you will see me in man coverage on a number two receiver. I am 225 pounds and my backups at my position are 190 and 180. That should tell you about how they played me at UTSA (laughs).

I think, with me, I can adjust to anything. I like to learn and pick up on new things and then I let my athletic ability do the rest. Most people have said WILL (weak-side linebacker), but wherever they need me to play, I can get the job done.

I rarely, if ever, give advice to these players. While I have been around the game for a few years, I would never act like I know enough to help these players in the league. However, I did bring up special teams after this.

I told Hicks that most of the players that I have seen break the "tweener" mold in the NFL have been players that start as great special teams players. I then asked him how comfortable he would be in a role that saw him mostly playing on special teams in the NFL (at least early on):

I love (special) teams. I actually played a lot of special teams in high school, but not a ton in college or at JUCO. The way JUCO is, they don't really have starters on special teams. At UTSA, I played a lot of punt return and kick-off when it wasn't a big game or anything.

I love special teams, though, and would love to play more of it in the NFL.

NFL Outlook

I finished off the interview with the same way I finish all of them. I asked Hicks how he would sell himself to a team this offseason. I asked him what my team would be getting, on and off the field, if they draft him:

Off the field, you are getting somebody that is never in any trouble, and you never have to worry about that kind of thing. On the field, you are getting somebody that is going to make a play, and is going to give his all on every single play.

You are getting somebody that is going to listen and lead by example. I tell coaches that I'm not a real vocal dude, but I will always lead by example. Everything I do is for my team and my teammates. I want to see my teammates find success, even if they are in front of me on the depth chart.

They are just getting a versatile linebacker that can play anything for a defense.

Hicks had an impressive career for the Road Runners and has put some great moments on film the past few seasons. He has some work to do with teams to break the tweener label, but he has the right mindset and work ethic to get it done.

If he can come out of the gates in the NFL and show that he belongs (either on defense or special teams), it wouldn't shock me if he churned out a long NFL career.

Follow Zach on Twitter @ZachHicks2.

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