Here is the full feature from the August 10, 2015 episode of The Pact.
Hey everybody, just a quick announcement– I started to write and record this feature last week. And I as just about complete with editing process on Friday night. My plan was to go to MSU football media day on Monday and get more content by talking directly with Darian Hicks. But on Saturday when Michigan State’s practice opened, Mark Dantonio announced that Hicks had mono,and was going to be out indefinitely. So while it is still relevant, the angle of the report has changed a little bit.
It was the end of Michigan State football’s most successful season in decades. The Spartans had just won the the Rose Bowl, narrowly defeating Stanford, anchored by the nation’s top ranked defense. That defense, lead by a historically dominant defensive backfield. That defensive backfield was nicknamed the “No Fly Zone”. They grabbed seventeen interceptions in the 2013 season.
Many Michigan State fans remember this song as the theme song to the 2013 season, and the viral locker room celebration videos that accompanied it. The Rose Bowl celebration being the most popular of them all on youtube, it has over 1.5 million views. Rapper Rich Homie Quan graced the locker room to sing and dance with the team. Athletic director Mark Hollis and President Lou Anna K. Simon also had cameos.
The first person to push people out of his way so he could get in the center of the dance circle was a player who didn’t record a single statistic in the rose bowl game: Darian Hicks. He stole the show, and the literally took the spotlight from the rapper who made the song he was dancing to famous. He shamelessly, and fearlessly dances. I hate to be cliche, but it was as if nobody was watching. Here he continued to do that same dance move, I believe it’s called the “Nae-Nae” on command with a look on his face that read “I’m the coolest”. After a solid half-minute owning the dance floor, Hicks calmly steps aside to let his teammate, fellow northeast ohio native, Connor Cook take center stage. Almost as if to say, okay Rose Bowl MVP, i’m done dancing, you can have a turn now. Sorry you have to follow me.
Post game celebration dances were Darian Hick’s time to shine in 2013. He didn’t get much time on the field in his redshirt freshman season, playing second fiddle to Darqueze Dennard and Trae Waynes, arguably the best cornerback duo MSU history.
The next year would be Darian’s turn. Darqueze Dennard was off to the next level, as MSU’s first player taken in the first round of the NFL draft in over a decade. Trae Waynes would then become the No. 1 corner. And now Darian Hicks, a redshirt sophomore, had a chance to start at the No. 2 spot.
Darian’s first game as a starter was also my first day as a reporter. August 29th, in a Friday night game against Jacksonville State. On Darian’s first play from scrimmage, he got burned.
Of course, Barge was quickly wrapped up, The spartans were able to stop the Gamecocks and ultimately dominate on the way to a 45-7 Victory. So the misstep he took on his first play ended up being much ado about nothing.
In Darian’s second game, the stakes were raised tenfold. He went from playing a division ii cupcake opponent at home to playing a team that finished #2 in the nation over 2,000 miles away from home. Oregon handed Michigan State its first loss of the season, lead by Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. The Ducks big-play offense was too much for the Spartan defense. And the inexperienced Hicks was targeted several times by Mariota to make those big plays happen
In the two months following the Oregon game, the Spartans went on a 6-game winning streak, and Darian Hicks was able to adjust to the learning curve of being a starting DB in the Big Ten. The Spartans were getting hyped up a lot more, with some analysts claiming that Mark Dantonio’s team had the best chance to make it to the College Football Playoff and win it all. But before they could even think about a Big Ten Title game, much less a National title game, they had to take down Ohio State in the regular season
Darian Hicks grew up in Ohio, and he didn’t receive a scholarship offer from the Buckeyes in high school, which was sure to make this game personal to him. The game was the most talked about Big Ten game of 2014 and was essentially the big ten championship game in and of itself, since Michigan State and Ohio State were head and shoulders above the rest of the conference.
Much like the Oregon game, the Spartans couldn’t handle the big plays from OSU. Darian Hicks had a difficult time containing the buckeyes passing game. That was a crucial play for the Spartans in the second quarter, with a 7-point lead, the wide receiver Hick’s was covering came down with a big catch on 3rd down and 23. The Buckeyes went on to score on that drive and tie the game.
The biggest momentum shift in the game occurred late in the second half. MSU looked as if it was taking control of the game, as Jeremy Langford ran in a touchdown to give Michigan State what appeared to be a two-touchdown lead. The play was called back, however, on a holding penalty. Kicker Michael Geiger trotted on the field with hopes of giving the Spartans a ten 10-point lead, but he missed the field goal attempt.
In a matter of seconds MSU went from appearing to lead by 14, settling for a 10 point lead, to being tied.
Michigan State was unable to regain the lead after that touchdown. And just like that hopes of a big ten championship, college football playoff berth and national championship ended.
After the game. There was no dancing in the locker room, but I saw Darian Hicks true colors in the media room. He didn’t’ push anybody out of the way to get there, but he stood with his held high, center stage. This time surrounded by reporters rather than his teammates. The look of pure joy that he had after the rose bowl wasn’t there, just a look of sadness and disappointment. One reporter asked “Do you think you had a bad game.” Hicks’ responds: “Yeah, we all did” He answered question after question, without verbally expressing his frustration. He used terms like “bounce back” and “keep playing”. Though his facial expression didn’t always match with the optimistic verbiage. He didn’t make way for Connor Cook to become the center of attention. He stood in the spotlight again and owned his negative performance, and put it behind him.
In the days following the Ohio State game there was a big question mark when it came to Darian Hicks’ ability to keep up. But head coach mark dantonio stayed by his side. He compared Hicks to Trae Waynes. Trae Waynes didn’t play much at all in his first year. HIs second year he got his feet wet, and then in 2014 he came into his true form and became on of the best DBs in the league.
Hicks bounced back, just like he said he would. Getting his second pick of the year in the following game against Maryland. MSU went on to win the rest of its game, including the Cotton Bowl in dramatic fashion. Wide receiver Tony Lippett took Hicks’ place in the starting lineup for the final three games of the season, and he had great success there. Although he lost his starting job, Darian Hicks was able to dance in the locker room again at the end of the season. This time knowing he played a pivotal role for the Spartans all season long.
Trae Waynes opted to forgo his senior year, entering the NFL draft and getting selected by the Minnesota Vikings back in May. About a month before the NFL draft, Darian Hicks took an interception and returned it 83-yards for a touchdown during a spring scrimmage.
This upcoming season was supposed to be Darian’s chance to “bounce back”. Michigan State gets another shot at Oregon, this time in East Lansing. The Spartans will also get a rematch with the defending National Champions, the Ohio State Buckeyes. That game, will be played in Darian’s home state. The cornerback position is wide open right now for MSU. And Darian Hicks was the frontrunner until being diagnosed with mono the day fall camp opened. Although there is no timetable for Darian’s return, when does come back to the football field, he’ll be ready to step in to the place he’s never shied away from: the spotlight.