By Damien Sordelett
Frankie Hickson’s Thanksgiving was not just filled spending time with his family around the dinner table or watching the day’s football games. The Liberty redshirt senior allotted himself part of the day to drive around Lynchburg and reminisce about the memories, friendships and places that have been special to him since his family moved to the Hill City in January 2004.
One of his stops included Williams Stadium, the football facility on Liberty University’s campus he has called home for five seasons. The stadium has drastically transformed from the 2004 season when his father became the Flames’ running backs coach to now in the program’s first full-fledged season as a Football Bowl Subdivision independent program.
The memories flooded back to Hickson, especially of the past two seasons in which he firmly entrenched himself as the program’s featured running back, and he looked forward to his swan song outing two days later against New Mexico State.
Little did the 5-foot-8, 180-pound running back know, but the greatest moment of his time playing on the Williams Stadium turf was about to unfold on a dreary Saturday afternoon.
Hickson rushed for career highs of 196 yards and four touchdowns in the Flames’ 49-28 victory over the Aggies, and his dominating performance on the ground allowed Liberty to become bowl eligible for the first time in program history.
“It just feels like a perfect story, like we’re living in a movie,” Hickson said after the game. “It’s real life and it’s God’s perfect plan for us.”
Hickson’s long, winding journey to reach the top of the Liberty depth chart required plenty of patience, and it came in handy with five different position coaches guiding the running backs during Hickson’s five seasons on campus.
There was a lot to learn from the likes of Jamaal Fobbs, Scott Downing, Ron Brown, Mike Brown and Bruce Johnson. Those voices all offered different pieces of advice Hickson has been able to add to his game. But whenever he needed a sounding board, he always circled back to the coach he has relied on since he began playing football: his father, Frank Hickson.
“My father has been there every step of the way,” the younger Hickson said. “He’s been the best coach that I could have ever, ever asked for.”
Frank Hickson moved his family to Lynchburg in 2004 when he was hired on Ken Karcher’s staff to coach the running backs, and he remained on staff when Danny Rocco took over before the 2006 campaign. The elder Hickson notably worked with Dre Barnes during his senior season and was Rashad Jennings’ running backs coach for three seasons.
Hickson’s son was told after this past Saturday’s game that he was four yards away from becoming the first running back since Jennings in 2008 to rush for 200 yards in a game.
He smiled and added, “If you kind of look at the record books in rushing and all-purpose yards, he’s kind of got a hand on a lot of those guys.”
The list of players impacted by Frank Hickson’s coaching and guidance also includes Frankie Hickson.
He is fourth on the program’s all-time list in career rushing yards with 2,778, second in all-purpose yards with 4,374, and tied with Mike Brown for fifth with 29 rushing touchdowns.
Hickson is 88 yards away from passing Barnes for most career all-purpose yards, and he is 89 yards shy of his second straight season with at least 1,000 rushing yards.
The Heritage High School product even admitted he set goals during his freshman season, but never expected the type of success he has enjoyed on the gridiron.
“I’ve just been blessed. God gave me an opportunity here, and he turned what I thought was just a simple opportunity and he made me into a man here,” Hickson said in the days leading up to this past Saturday’s game. “I’m just appreciative of all the coaches and everybody — all the professors and all the players that I’ve had a chance to play with. I’m thankful for everybody who’s had an impact on my life and influenced me to be the man that I am today.”
Hickson has set a career high with 12 rushing touchdowns this season, and he has 23 scores in the past two seasons as the Flames’ primary tailback.
The scoring totals have come in a committee approach, with Joshua Mack tallying 767 yards and six touchdowns this season.
“Both Frankie and J-Mack have run the ball extremely well and they did again today,” Flames coach Hugh Freeze said after Saturday’s game. “Early on, I wanted to put it in 23’s hands and let him carry us. He did very well. So did J-Mack when he got his time in there, too.”
Hickson plans on working out, relaxing from the grind of the FBS season and spending time with family throughout the week leading up to Sunday, when the bowl selections are revealed.
Though, there is the possibility of one more drive Saturday. Hickson’s alma mater, Heritage, plays at Lord Botetourt in the Class 3 state semifinals, and the winner advances to the state championship game Dec. 14 at Williams Stadium.
“I’m thinking about Daleville, I really am,” he said. “Coach [Brad] Bradley is the best coach I’ve ever had. I love that man, and to support him and support my Pioneers in the next generation, it would mean everything to me.”
Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.