Hicks brings 'Nasty Bunch edge' from playing days to coaching cornerbacksBy CAMAL PETRO,
Eddie Hicks never quit during his playing days at Southern Miss in the late 2000s.
Even after getting his helmet ripped off by an opponent, the former safety saw a loose ball on the ground and he didn’t care about his head being exposed. When a teammate picked up the fumble, he threw a block without his helmet, which epitomizes what “ The Nasty Bunch” is all about.
“That’s the Nasty Bunch edge,” he said after Monday morning’s practice. “I’m trying to get to the ball. Helmet off, cleats off, it doesn’t matter.”
Now, he’s the cornerbacks coach for the Golden Eagles, and he’s trying to instill the edge that he played with into his players now. The shoulder pads were on for the first time Monday, and Hicks said he didn’t hear enough popping of the pads from his corners.
“We have to be able to play with a lot of energy here,” Hicks said. “That’s what it’s always been. Energy and flying to the football. That’s the Nasty Bunch edge.”
The cornerback position, among a few others, is a position that isn’t bringing back too many experienced players. Southern Miss graduated its two starters at corner from the 2017 team, so players like redshirt sophomore Rachuan Mitchell and junior Ty Williams are going to have to step up. Those two have been practicing with the first team through the early part of camp.
Redshirt junior Ernest Gunn, sophomore LaMarque Davis and freshman Jemaurian Jones are also in the mix.
“It’s going really good. I challenge them every day,” Hicks said. “We are young, we don’t have a lot of guys coming back, but we do have talented guys. For me, it’s a thrill and it’s a challenge. They’re competing, they’re competing hard and I love it.”
It’s pretty simple for what Hicks is looking for from his corners. He wants to see his players run to the ball, finish plays and not have any busted coverages, and he’s enjoying what he has seen so far.
The position group talks about being “takers” on a daily basis. Hicks uses the quote “nothing in life is given” in the cornerbacks’ room and it’s echoed by telling his players they have to go take the football away from the offense.
“When the ball is in the air, we have to go take it,” Hicks said. “The quarterback didn’t give you that. When you get a fumble, the receiver or running back didn’t give you that. You took it. That’s our mindset.”
Hicks played at Southern Miss from 2005-2009 where he led the team in interceptions his last two seasons. From his safety position, he collected 13 interceptions and 238 tackles.
He spent a year and a half out of football once his playing days were over, but he found himself on Jay Hopson’s staff at Alcorn State as a graduate assistant. He spent the last two seasons coaching defensive backs at Austin Peay before Hopson hired him to his staff again in the spring.
Last season, Austin Peay was ranked 27th in FCS, only allowing 186.7 passing yards per game to its opponents. Southern Miss’ defense was ranked 25th in FBS with 193.5 yards per game through the air.
“I just love having Eddie,” Hopson said. “Eddie is such a Southern Miss guy. He’s a winner at everything, he’s hardnosed, a great man, a great role model and great teacher. He was that way as a player. Blessed to have him on board with us.”
Hicks said Hopson reached out to him about the possibility of returning to his alma mater, and Hicks was excited. He knew the tradition and he knew how Hopson liked to coach, so it was an easy decision to move back to Hattiesburg. Hicks also played for Hopson when he was the defensive coordinator for Southern Miss from 2005-2007.
Getting into coaching made sense for Hicks. When he hung up his cleats for the last time, he wasn’t too sure what he wanted to do, though. He spent some time working in the Human Resource Management field, which was his degree, before joining the staff at Alcorn State.
Even when he was playing for the Golden Eagles, he was basically another coach on the field.
“When I was a player here, I was always that guy that a lot of guys looked up to,” Hicks said. “I didn’t bust coverages or anything, I knew my stuff and I could explain it. The incoming guys, I was always that guy that helped them try to learn everything. My peers always said, ‘You need to get into coaching because when you explain it, we get it.’”
He’s been teaching the skill of playing in the defensive secondary since he was a player at Southern Miss, and now he’s in charge of doing as a member of the Southern Miss coaching staff. The defense will need quality play from an experienced group of cornerbacks if it wants to see success in 2018.