THIS MORNING was a happy one for the Ken Hicks family - and for their mailman. Kerry, the youngest of the family's six children, signed a national letter of intent to play football for the national champions from the University of Colorado. Thus, life can return to normal. Kerry can stop dodging telephones and coaches in the school hallway. His coach can finally get a full night's sleep. The parade of football coaches through the Hicks' living room can stop. Note to the Hicks' neighbors: Your mail delivery service will resume soon.
One day last fall, the local mailman suddenly realized that he was spending much of his time delivering bundles of letters to the Hicks home - enough to fill two large boxes eventually - most of them with famous schools and coaches in the return address. "Who lives in this house anyway?" he finally asked the Hicks.That would be Kerry, a senior at Highland High School and the center of a recruiting chase gone wild. When you're 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, and can run and tackle and block and kick and throw and shoot, and pull good grades to boot, and you're only 18 - grown men fall in love.
LaVell Edwards, the BYU coach, stepped off an all-night flight from Honolulu and drove straight to the Hicks' home. Bill McCartney, the Colorado coach, sat in the Hicks' living room, too. So did Bruce Snyder of Cal and Dick Tomey of Arizona, among many others. But they proved more resourceful than that.
McCartney called Hicks from the Orange Bowl. During the Orange Bowl. From the sidelines. "How are we doing?" he asked. "Are you watching? You better cheer a little harder." McCartney's assistants called Hicks three more times during the game, just as they had done during games against Texas and Kansas State. Not to be forgotten, Cal did the same during the Copper Bowl. Kansas State had no bowl, but it did have a president who called Hicks at his home.
Coaches first began getting word of Hicks last spring, and the recruiting game was on. NCAA rules forbid them from talking with recruits until November, but they say nothing about looking them over. What time is Hicks' weightlifting class? they'd ask Highland coaches, and guess who'd show up for the weightlifting class. Which one is Hicks? they'd ask the instructor, and then, after taking in the size and the strength (305 pounds in the clean and jerk), they were smitten. Hicks passed the eye test.
Then came fall and the football season. Hicks earned all-state honors on both offense and defense and all-America honors as a defensive end during a season in which he produced 67 tackles and 9 sacks, handled the team's punting chores, and blocked an extra point attempt to send the Rams to the state championship. He passed the performance test.
Suddenly and strangely, a large number of collegiate football coaches became ardent fans of the Highland High basketball team, which features a center named Hicks, who averages 22 points and 9 rebounds a game (he once won a game with a three-point basket). Hicks, who narrowly missed the state record in the discus last spring, passed the athlete test.
Football coaches flocked to Highland, six or seven daily. Hicks missed class regularly to listen to their pitches. One coach would grill him for an hour, then turn him over to another coach - from the same school. Hicks soon avoided the football office. "You never knew who would be there," he says.
"You think recruiting is out of hand?" says Highland coach Tom Kingsford. "I felt like a traffic cop." Or an operator. "I got five, six, seven calls a day through January and most of December," says Kingsford. The calls came as late as midnight and as early as 5 a.m. The Hicks' home was besieged by calls as well. The attention was fun in the beginning, but after a time, Kerry begged off. "Tell them I'm not home," he would say when the phone rang.
Hicks eventually settled on a list of five finalists - Cal, Colorado, BYU, Arizona, Kansas State - and the courtship went on the road. Cal took him to the Cal-Stanford basketball game. Kansas State and Arizona took him hunting (Hicks' passion). BYU took him snowmobiling.
Hicks made his final recruiting visit last weekend. On Monday morning, Kingsford received eight calls before 8 a.m. "They wanted to know what his decision was," he said.
And the winner (drum roll) . . . Colorado.
"I can't even tell you how happy I am that it's over," says Hicks. "It was fun, but, you know what I'm saying. I thought it would be easy, but at the very end you've got to make up your mind. That was tough. I loved all the schools I visited. It was hard to say no."
Apparently, it was difficult to hear it, too. The rejected suitors didn't take rejection well. "One school called five times (Monday morning)," said Kingsford. "They wanted to know why not them?"
In the meantime, Hicks, the 3.6 student with the 4.9 speed, will try to recover his grades - which understandably slipped during the past two months - and get on with the business of being an 18-year-old. "I'm going to start getting my life together again," he says. "I'm going to hang out with my friends and start doing everything I used to do."