Such is life for a five-star prospect, especially one from an in-state powerhouse like Alter that has produced multiple Buckeyes over the years.
From talking to Hicks — be it in December during Peach Bowl media day in Georgia, in the spring in Columbus or Thursday when the Buckeyes began preseason practice — he really wasn’t bothered by being relied upon only on special teams, but he is looking forward to finding a larger role this fall.
“Not being able to play right away, I wasn’t really worried about it,” Hicks said as Ohio State opened preseason practice. “Obviously I wanted to be able to come in and play and show I can help the team, but not playing opened my eyes and made me hungry. At the end of the day, I trust God’s plan and what he has for you. Things happen for a reason.”
A year ago, the linebacker room was full of questions after multiple down seasons, but this year the Buckeyes return two productive starters in Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers.
That means defensive coordinator Jim Knowles might have to get creative to find a way to get Hicks on the field.
Fortunately for Hicks, being creative is one of the things Knowles is known for, and he might have a spot that is just the ticket to unlocking Hicks’ ability without displacing the veterans.
It’s called the “Jack” or “Leo” position, a hybrid player who could rush off the edge one play, plug the middle on another or be called upon to drop into coverage.
Knowles, who also coaches the linebackers, spoke highly of Hicks during the 2022 preseason and again in January.
He continued to like what he saw from Hicks through the spring and declared in May he could see the youngster being ready to blossom.
“I’ve felt pretty strong about C.J. the whole time,” Knowles said Thursday. “He’s had a great offseason, continues to improve. He’s gonna play at (weak-side linebacker). He’s gonna play at Jack. It’s on me to find ways to get him in the game.”
He sees the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Hicks as a candidate for the hybrid role not just because he is buried on the linebacker depth chart but because he has a unique skill set.
“He has more short-area quickness. He’s excited to do it because you don’t have to read much at that position,” Knowles said. “You just have to go in and attack. You can just kind of tell him what to do, and he does it.”
Having done a little bit of everything at Alter — cornerback, safety, outside linebacker, etc. — probably won’t hurt, either.
“I really don’t pay attention to how many linebackers we’ve got in the room,” Hicks said. “I’m just going out there on the field and play and doing my job, but I like Jack because if you turn on my high school tape it’s similar to what I did in high school.
“Mentally I’m ready to go. First day of camp was all right for the whole defense, but we’ve got to keep going. The goal is to be the best defense in the country so we’ve got to keep building and stacking up days.”
While the linebacker room is currently top heavy with seniors Eichenberg, Steele and Cody Simon, that surplus could quickly turn into a dearth in the next year.
That is one of the reasons being able to get Northmont grad Nigel Glover as a transfer from Northwestern with freshman eligibility was big for Ohio State.
“We’ve known about Nigel for a long time,” Knowles said. “Really it’s his attitude, the way he wants to improve. He’s so into the Xs and Os. He’s the kind of kid who is coachable and he wants to learn.”
Having grown up in north Dayton, Hicks said he already knows Glover, too.
“He’s a good guy,” Hicks said. “Great linebacker. Real versatile. He played free safety in high school, so it showed how rangy he can be.”