Ohio State football: Alter grad Hicks learned patience in 1st season

After doing nearly everything on the field for the Alter Knights for four seasons, C.J. Hicks had only a limited role in his first year with the Ohio State Buckeyes last season.

That’s OK with Hicks.

“I feel like everybody that’s here wants to at least see the field and play a few snaps at their position, but at the end of the day, you can’t be selfish,” Hicks said during Ohio State’s Peach Bowl media day last month. “You have to play as a team and do what’s best for the team.”

As the No. 7 prospect in 247Sports Composite national rankings, Hicks was the top prospect in Ohio for the class of 2022, and the highest-rated recruit in Ohio State’s signing class.

He started at cornerback as a freshman for the Knights — no small feat — but played nearly every position on defense ins his four seasons for Alter and was also a regular on offense and special teams.

As a senior, he carried 66 times for 667 yards and five touchdowns and caught 28 passes for 396 yards with four more touchdowns receiving, but he remained a defensive player first.

Playing safety, nickel, all three linebacker spots and even a little bit of end, he finished ninth in the GCL Co-Ed with 84 tackles.

With Ohio State having struggled defensively in 2021 and the linebackers in particular being disappointing, Hicks was viewed as a candidate for early playing time with the Scarlet and Gray.

That’s now how it turned out.

Veterans Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers both blossomed in new coordinator Jim Knowles’ defense, and Hicks saw little playing time on defense.

He was a regular contributor on special teams, though, and expressed no concerns about having to wait his turn to do more.

“This year has taught me to be patient,” Hicks said. “Because throughout my whole life, I’ve started and played football every year. That includes my freshman year at Alter. So yeah, it just taught me patience and being able to be a good teammate off the field and the same thing on the field.

“Coming in, yes, I wanted to play obviously, but I don’t have a problem sitting down and watching my teammates ball out. Put the best guys out there and ball out and do what’s best for the team. I’m not a selfish guy. I wanna see all my guys eat, and Tommy and Steele are eating.”

Ultimately, Hicks was credited with six tackles in 12 games. He covered kicks and was part of the kickoff return and put return units while getting a few snaps on defense late in blowouts.

He also made a good impression on Knowles, who coaches the linebackers on top of coordinating the defense.

“I think C.J. is extremely talented, a great kid to be around. Wants to learn. He’s gonna have a bright future,” Knowles said.

With Eichenberg and Chambers both returning for their senior seasons, snaps could be hard to come by again on defense this fall.

However, Knowles likes to put together different packages to utilize different players with different skill sets, so it remains to be seen how things will shake out.

His 4-2-5 defensive base utilizes only two linebackers most of the time, but it asks them to do a lot.

Hicks described it as playing nickel but doing so in the box, a description Knowles did not dismiss.

“Yeah, I mean, we ask our linebackers to do a lot of different things,” he said. “So it’s not an inside linebacker or an outside linebacker. He’s gonna have to play in all different positions on the field. So his athletic skill is going to come in handy.

“C.J.’s got a really balanced personality. He’s not an ego guy. He’s a team guy, so I think he’s handled everything really well.”

Hicks said he enjoyed his first season working under Knowles, who did not take over the defense until after Hicks had arrived in Columbus.

“He’s helped me see a lot of things that usually I wouldn’t see,” Hicks said. “Watching the whole field, watching the line of scrimmage, seeing what certain guys are going to be doing. He’s helped me a lot.”

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