HOGS: QB Hicks oozes energy, leadership
FAYETTEVILLE - While the possibly next graduate transfer quarterback in waiting watched on his recruiting visit, Arkansas’ current graduate transfer QB practiced as a Razorback for the first time last week.
Nick Starkel, announcing last December he was transferring as a graduate from Texas A&M with two football seasons of eligibility remaining, was in the house as Ben Hicks quarterbacked the Razorbacks on Friday.
Hicks is the graduate transfer from SMU recruited by former Mustangs coach and current Arkansas coach Chad Morris to SMU and redshirted in 2015 and Morris’ starting SMU quarterback in 2016 and 2017.
Morris came to head coach Arkansas by 2018. Hicks sought to rejoin him after one SMU season under current Mustang head coach Sonny Dykes and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee.
Hicks starts the spring No. 1 in front of UA baseball pitcher Connor Noland, who played four games last year and started one on Morris' first Razorback team.
But Morris, with sparsely used returnees John Stephen Jones and Daulton Hyatt on hand and incoming freshman KJ Jefferson arriving in the summer, obviously wants another experienced quarterback in the room as he recruits Starkel.
“Recruiting is their job,” Hicks said after Friday’s practice. “My job is to be the best player I can be every single day and bring this team along. That’s what I’m going to do. That’s my job. Competition is competition. There’s competition everywhere you go. I’m just here to do anything and everything I can to help this team win games and that’s what I’m going to do.”
From SMU to Arkansas, Hicks not only rejoins Morris but offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Joe Craddock, offensive line coach Dustin Fry, receivers coach Dustin Stepp and running backs coach Jeff Traylor.
“It’s kind of like the old days,” Hicks said. “Kind of left it for a year, kind of forgot what it was like. Now I’m back and it’s pretty similar, so it’s been a lot of fun.”
And the playbook has stayed close to the same.
“They’ve got some different personnel offensively here than we did at SMU," Hicks said. "So they added some little concepts or tweaks here or there. I think it’s all good. I like the things they’ve implemented since I left.”
Morris debuted 2-10 last season after inheriting a 4-8 team from former coach Bret Bielema. Morris also debuted 2-10 at SMU, inheriting a 1-11 team from previous Mustangs coach June Jones. Morris then guided SMU to 5-7 in 2016 and 7-5 in 2017.
“Yeah, I mean, at SMU we started the same way,” Hicks said. “We were 2-10. It was difficult for everybody. We just continued to get better and better. I can promise you most of us are a lot happier when we’re winning.
“When I put my name in the transfer portal, I thought this could be an opportunity to come back and play for them,” Hicks said. “It was an exciting deal. I wanted to hear other places out and I did that. In the end, I thought this was the best opportunity for myself.”
The big key of course as a QB is relating to and leading his new teammates.
“Yeah, they’re great,” Hicks said. “Got some young guys, got some old guys. Got some veterans who can bring those young guys along. I think they jell well together. They’re all getting along very well. I enjoy working with them. It’s been fun working with them over the winter conditioning. I think we’ll continue to get timing with the DBs covering them now. When you’re doing routes on air it’s a little different but as far as first day, I thought it went well.”
His fifth-year senior age ought to help him lead.
“Yeah, you kind of get it, just cause I’m old and I’ve played a lot of football,” Hicks said. “I think that’s my job is to come in and be the leader of this team. Just bring guys along and just push this process along. So it’s kind of a part of playing the position.”
Senior receiver Deon Stewart said Hicks quickly has fit in and led.
“I had no idea what to think of the guy because I’ve never really heard of him,” Stewart said. “But after I first met him, I could tell he was a leader because he was out there telling us exactly how he wants us to run the routes so the timing would be perfect, so I like him a lot.”
Stewart said the work with Hicks became instant.
“He’s always scheduling times for us to come up and throw,” Stewart said of Hicks’ January arrival. “This is before we started spring ball, but we’d come up Thursday and Saturday. We’d come up Saturday I think like 11 or noon and throw. He’s got so much energy. That’s what we need is somebody who has that much energy and likes to make it fun for us when we’re out there.”