PULLMAN - The Washington State defense ranks last in the nation, but only six players in the Pacific-10 Conference have been credited with more tackles than Cougars safety Xavier Hicks.
Hicks leads the Cougars with 78 tackles. Not so long ago, that’s 78 more tackles than Hicks thought he would get the chance to make at WSU.
Paul Wulff had barely left the podium after being named coach at his alma mater in December 2007 when Hicks was arrested for replacing soaking solution with rubbing alcohol in the contact lens case of then-teammate Grady Maxwell, the former Curtis High School star. The two were roommates, and Hicks said he had grown increasingly angry about Maxwell’s refusal to pay bills on time.
Obviously, Hicks’ reaction was way out of line. Just as obviously, Wulff – who pledged to get tough with players in a program that he said lacked discipline – talked about kicking Hicks off the team.
“That was under serious consideration,” Wulff said.
“I was, at the time, expecting the worst,” Hicks said.
To Hicks’ surprise, Wulff and his staff decided to give Hicks a second chance. To Wulff’s surprise, he discovered that Hicks is not just a good football player, but a good person and teammate.
“You can tell he’s there for his team,” Wulff said.
“Other players respect him. Since we got here, he hasn’t done one thing maliciously against anybody (following the Maxwell incident).”
Hicks spent a month in jail for his misdeeds — including use of another person’s debit card prior to Wulff’s hiring — and was suspended for the first three games of the 2008 season.
Since the suspension, Hicks has been arrested twice for driving without a valid driver’s license — once on his drive home from jail — but has caused no harm to anyone, including Maxwell, who never wore his contacts after noticing they were bloated due to rubbing alcohol.
“I think people might have that impression of me as a bad person — not good character,” Hicks said. “Which is understandable, if you’ve read articles on off-field incidents about me.
“I can understand those assumptions, but I think after meeting me it would probably change their view.”
Teammates rush to Hicks’ defense when his character is questioned.
“I think when they (outsiders) meet him, they’ll realize there’s more to the book than the cover,” said senior quarterback Kevin Lopina, who shares an apartment with Hicks.
“He’s an awesome person,” senior linebacker Andy Mattingly said. “You like to put yourself around him because his personality is great. He’s a lot of fun to hang around.
“Maybe people who don’t know him might think he doesn’t make the right decisions all the time, but nobody does. People always make mistakes. What you can take from him is he’s learned from his mistakes.”
Hicks learned plenty about handling adversity from his mother. Marcie Cortez gave birth to Hicks when she was only 16 on Dec. 26, 1986.
Cortez soon found herself divorced and raising three sons by herself while working as many as three jobs in the Fullerton, Calif., area.
Today, the boys’ father remains somewhat involved and all three of Cortez’s sons attend college. Michael is a rugby player at San Diego State, and Randall is a redshirt freshman football player at Fullerton (junior) College, where Cortez attends night classes.
Hicks, who carried a 3.5 grade-point average at Fullerton High School, expects to earn his degree in ethnic studies in May. The 6-foot, 219-pound senior dreams of playing in the NFL and might pursue a coaching career once he stops playing.
“I think he works harder than anybody else,” Lopina said.
Hicks is encouraged about the direction of the football program under Wulff and his staff. A personable sort with a toothy grin, Hicks stresses how grateful he is for the opportunity to finish his college-playing career at the school he has grown to love.
“Overall, it’s been a wonderful experience,” Hicks said. “Except for a couple things that have happened, I wouldn’t take it back for anything.”