Kingsport Times News Thursday, August 27, 2015

Memory Lane: Freddie Hicks

April 2nd, 2007 12:48 am by Staff Report

Freddie Hicks Sr.

Born: Feb. 21, 1955

Where: Kingsport

High School/College: Ketron/East Tennessee State

Residence: Gate City

Then: The 1972 Ketron football season was like theater. It had tragedy, drama and triumph.

Freddie Hicks Sr. provided the headline act.

The 5-foot-11, 165-pound halfback/tailback would coil up in his stance like a spring and take off explosively at the sound of quarterback Rick Osborne's snap count. Quick but not exceptionally fast, the shifty Hicks drove opponents crazy with his uncanny moves.

During Hicks' junior season, Ketron won just three games but returning would be an abundance of talent.

"If I can't win with this bunch,'' head coach Benny Compton said, "it'll be back to Brookside Elementary for me.''

Ketron went 10-2.

Hicks started his senior year with a bang, leading the Wildcats to a 50-0 victory over LaFollette.

The day after that first game, center/nose guard Randall Ketron was killed in an automobile accident.

Devastated, the team practiced only once before playing Virginia High the following Friday and lost 30-26. Before the kickoff, Compton confided in friends that he felt the team could go either of two ways - fall apart or come together.

After the defeat, the Wildcats dedicated the remainder of the season to their fallen comrade during a tearful team meeting. Vowing to win the rest of their games, the players wore black crosses on their helmets the next 10 weeks.

Ketron demolished Virginia's top-ranked Group A team, J.J. Kelly, in its next appearance, 42-0. Hicks scored four touchdowns on runs of 28, 3, 15 and 9 yards. He finished with 165 yards on 21 carries. Osborne completed 8 of 12 passes for 192 yards.

Compton said later he would have settled for a one- point win under the circumstances.

It started a nine-game winning streak. Among the victories was a 54-0 trouncing of Johnson County. Hicks left that game early in the second quarter after rushing 11 times for 258 yards.

Another blowout was a 42-6 win over Rotherwood Conference rival Rogersville, and the Wildcats stunned Knox Rule 28-7.

Ketron was on a roll and appeared headed for the Class AA state championship.

In the playoffs, the Wildcats ambushed perennial power Maryville 26-0 at J. Fred Johnson Stadium. Offensive coach Pat Carter's game plan interchanged the tackles and guards to confuse the Rebels' defense.

It was off to Hartsville for the semifinals, where a win would send the Wildcats to the championship game.

Many people felt Ketron got hijacked at Hartsville. With an all-local officiating crew blowing the whistles, three of the Wildcats' TDs were nullified by penalties. Ketron got charged with 10 infractions for 80 yards while Hartsville was penalized three times for 25 yards.

Compton actually considered pulling his team off the field at halftime. However, it wasn't his nature to quit and he also feared the TSSAA might punish the school.

Hicks opened the scoring with a 79-yard TD run. Yellow flags then seemed to swing the momentum in Hartsville's direction. Despite outgaining the home team yardage-wise 305-260, Ketron was defeated 30-21.

"It was a bitter pill to swallow,'' said Hicks, who carried 17 times for 190 yards in that game - a state playoff record at the time.

Hartsville went on to win the state title and it stuck in the craw of Ketron's coaches, players and fans for years to come.

Mike Ritz had joined the staff as defensive coordinator and his motivation raised the team's level of play immensely.

Hicks said the toughest defense he faced all season was the one he saw every day. "The hardest thing I had to do was to go against our own defense in practice,'' he said.

Senior tackle Joey Bowen, injured in the J.J. Kelly game, was replaced temporarily by sophomore Mike Winegar. They both wound up at major universities - the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Bowen at Tennessee and the 6-5, 205-pound Winegar at Georgia Tech.

Osborne's passes to wide receivers Gary Mitchell and Gary Harris loosened up the defenses for Hicks, who became the school's all-time leading rusher. He gained 2,615 yards in 32 starts as a three-year starter. Hicks rushed for 1,415 as a senior.

Hicks tied Elmo Clevenger's single-season touchdown record at Ketron with 20.

"I was surrounded by some awesome players,'' Hicks said.

Beating Gate City 29-14 was gratifying because Hicks had attended school with many of its players and they were still friends.

The Hicks family lived in East Carters Valley near the state line. He played for Shoemaker Elementary but his parents decided that he would attend Ketron.

"Of all the people I played against, Gate City's Phil Rogers was the best,'' Hicks said. "He was phenomenal but running behind that line he had with him, a one-legged man in a wheelchair could have averaged 5 yards a carry.''

Hicks was offered a scholarship by Carson-Newman College but decided to give up football. He attended ETSU.

Now: Hicks has been manager of the Bloomingdale Water Department for 19 years.

He is married to the former Cindy Davis, a laboratory analyst at BAE Systems. They have four children - Ashley, 21; Heather, 19; Freddie Jr., 13, and Robbie, 11.

Ashley was a three-year basketball starter at Gate City. Heather's basketball career was cut short by a knee injury. Both are college students.

Freddie Jr. is playing middle school football and basketball. Robbie is a little-leaguer.

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