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Q&A: Noah Hickcox on PJ Fleck: "I could talk to you for hours about describing him as a person"

01/31/2017, 9:15pm CST
By Chris Monter

Noah Hickcox, a 6-foot-4, 272-pound defensive tackle from Rockford (IL) Boylan, switched his commitment from Western Michigan to Minnesota to follow head coach P.J. Fleck earlier this month. . 
Hickcox helped lead the Titans to a 8-2 record, losing to Saint Viator 24-13 in the first round of the Class 6A Illinois state playoffs. 
Gopher Hole caught up with him to learn the latest on his decision.


Gopher Hole: What were your impressions on the visit to Minnesota?


Noah Hickcox: I liked every part of it. We got to hang out with the guys on the current team right now and see all of our guys from the 2017 Class. Obviously, we got to bond as a group and become more like a family than before. Got to talk with all the new coaches and all the old coaches from Western Michigan. It was a really cool experience to see all the new facilities and all the upgrades that I was getting from Western Michigan to Minnesota. It was a cool experience for my whole family. 


Gopher Hole: You are one of nine Western Michigan commits who switched to Minnesota now that Coach Fleck has moved to Minnesota. That obviously says a lot about Coach Fleck that he could convince to make that move. What is he like as a person?


Noah Hickcox: It is hard to put into words. I could talk to you for hours about describing him as a person, describing him as a man. He is an amazing person. He is honest. He is caring. He is funny. He is charismatic. There are so many qualities to him, but above all, he is a unique person to talk to, so when I was going through everything that happened with my father, he was there throughout the whole thing. Calling me every night. Talking about the day, not even just talking about my dad, but just talking about me with life and how things are going better. He is a commendable person and I can't wait to play for him, to be honest.  


Gopher Hole: What is your relationship like with the other former Western Michigan commits?


Noah Hickcox: We all love each other. It is a one big family, to be honest. You talk to these things since March, from then on, all the new kids committing and we all moved on. It was an easy transition, especially because all of the guys formed the current Minnesota class. The old Minnesota class now and the new one under Coach Fleck. It was just an easy transition for all of us. We are all just mending as a group. We text every day in our group chat. All of us kids from Western Michigan and the kids from Minnesota, we are all one big family now. We are all in Minnesota. It is one big family and we love each other. It will be cool to see how that translates on the field  


Gopher Hole: Does that make it easier making the move to Minnesota knowing those other commits are still going to be your teammates?


Noah Hickcox: For sure. You get to certain comfortability level with all these kids and it is just easy and it makes you feel easy that you have been talking to these people for over a year now. It is just amazing to see what is going to happen and it is going to be a sight to see, to be honest.  


Gopher Hole: How hard was it to say no to Western Michigan?


Noah Hickcox: You know, it was difficult because they had been with me through the hardest part of my life and they had given me some many opportunities to succeed, going to their camps for weeks free. It is hard to think about those people, but you know that you are going to see a lot of those people in Minnesota, because they are so elite that Coach Fleck had to take them with, especially with my recruiting coach, Rob Wenger. He is one of my favorite coaches that I have ever talked to and it is awesome that he got to come with. It makes me at ease. To be honest, it puts my mom at ease, because she loves him as well. The whole coaching staff, it is awesome to get to see from Western got to come as well.  It was hard to leave, but it was easy because I knew that they were going to be there with me. 


Gopher Hole: You have a former high school teammate who is at Minnesota in Demry Croft. He is two years older than you, but what is your relationship like with him?


Noah Hickcox: We are pretty friendly. We played together on varsity my sophomore year, his senior year. We texted back and forth for awhile about this whole situation. He is excited for me and I was excited to be part of the family, He is excited to play for Coach Fleck and to be given the opportunity to work for that starting spot and I'm ready to do the same. He has given me an example to put in the hard work every day and be able to put forth the actions that are necessary to get a starting spot.


Gopher Hole: What has he told you about Minnesota?


Noah Hickcox: That I am going to love every part of it. The campus life is awesome. The student life and all the benefits that we get with the football team with the training table and everything. All the guys are awesome and he has told me nothing but good things and he is always straight-up honest with me, so it is good to hear, program-specifically, all the great things about Minnesota.


Gopher Hole: Had you ever even been to Minnesota before the official visit?


Noah Hickcox: I had not, so all of that was new to me, but it was awesome. I loved every part of it.  


Gopher Hole: What all did you get a chance to do and see on your official visit? 


Noah Hickcox: We got to go to the Mall of America and we ate at the steak restaurant. We went to the Smaaash arcade, where there is virtual reality. We got to go to the basketball game and go to another restaurant. It was cool and we got facilities tours and academic meetings with our specific person that we'll be working with. We got to see a lot of things. It's hard to talk about all of it. There was a lot of stuff that happened. 


Gopher Hole: You mentioned your mom. Was she the only family member on the trip?


Noah Hickcox: No, my sister was there as well. 


Gopher Hole: What was their impression?


Noah Hickcox: They loved it. They were amazed at the size of the stadium compared what I was going to play at to what I am going to play at now. They loved all the coaches. They loved all the parents that they got to meet for the current recruits and they loved all the guys that we got to stay with, our player hosts, and it was really just a cool overall experience for them. I'm glad that they got to be a part of it with me.  
Gopher Hole: Did that make it a little bit easier, because it is obviously a big change. You were set to go to Western Michigan and all of a sudden Coach Fleck decides to come to Minnesota, which changes everything for you. Did that makes it easier knowing your mom and sister really liked it, too and thinks that this is a great place for you as well?


Noah Hickcox: They are my rocks. They keep me sane. They helped me through the hardest situation that anyone could ever imagine. When they gave me the thumbs up, I knew that it was the place for me, so it meant the world to me that they liked it as much as I did. When you get support from the people who mean the most to you, the person that you love the most and the people that you love the most. It was awesome. It was just really easy for me. 


Gopher Hole: What was your initial reaction when you heard that Coach Fleck was leaving Western Michigan?


Noah Hickcox: I wasn't really surprised. It is hard to turn down an offer like that. There was speculation that this was the most serious one, the school that wanted him the most, so I wasn't really surprised, but when it actually happened, there was a little bit of panic, like what is going to happen and what am I going to do. Once I got the phone call from him, getting the offer, calmed down all my nerves, because I knew what was going to happen next.   


Gopher Hole: When did Coach Fleck extend the Minnesota offer to you?


Noah Hickcox: He had meetings during the day, so it was later in the day, it was like 8:30 or 9 o'clock. The recruiting coordinator, Gerrit Chernoff, called me and said that you are getting a call from Coach Fleck later and just be ready for some good news and I was like "Sweet. Sounds good to me." 


Gopher Hole: You were one of the guys who committed pretty quickly to Minnesota. What was it that made you think that you wanted to follow coach Fleck and the other coaches?


Noah Hickcox: For me, when I got extended the offer, it was a no-brainer to me, to be honest, because to have to describe or try to explain what has happened in my life to another coach wouldn't just be the same, so for me, it was easy. It was the easiest decision for my life. It was just easiest because I wouldn't have to try to struggle to tell another coach what happened with my dad and what is going on at home and everything like that. It was the easiest transition that it could have been and I didn't really have to think about it.  


Gopher Hole: You had a very good senior season. You had an 8-2 record and made it to the playoffs after going just 3-6 as a junior. How pleased were you with your senior season?


Noah Hickcox: You know, It was everything that I wanted it to be. Obviously, you have a goal and you want to win a state title. Me and the other captains, we bought in and we sat down and we decided what we wanted the season to be and how we wanted that to go. We made our dreams and beyond it, to be honest.


Gopher Hole: The year before you were 0-6, but won the last three games. Did that build into something for this year, finishing the season so strongly?


Noah Hickcox: We didn't really think about the past. The only games that we thought of were the games that we lost. We took, you can call it momentum, not from the 3-0, but the 0-6 and we took into the season and we were like "this is not who we want to be. That is not the team that we are. That is not the team that we have. We are going to make this. We are going to turn this 0-6 into 6-0 and we are going to roll." 


Gopher Hole: You were named Chicago Bears Weekly High School All-Star Player this year after you helped lead Boylan to a victory over Hononegah just two days after losing your father, Luke to pancreatic cancer. You had predicted a win and had a pick six, recorded a safety, knocked down a fourth-down pass attempt to end Hononegah's last drive and helped the Titans rush for over 200 yards in the 17-14 victory. What are your memories of that game?


Noah Hickcox: I replay that game on Hudl every day, because it reminds me so much of what my dad taught me. How to play hard. How to play with heart. How to bring your team together even though times are going to be hard. It was the most memorable game that I've ever played in and I'm probably not going to forget for the rest of my life.


Gopher Hole: It obviously has to be tough, losing your father, especially in your senior year, but I know that he had to be very proud of you and all your accomplishments. What do you think he would be thinking when you are signing with Minnesota this week?


Noah Hickcox: He would be really proud of me. From the beginning, he was the biggest advocate for me wanting to go play college ball. My mom was like "That's a lot of work that has to be put in." and my dad just said "You know what, we're going to do it and we are going to play more if that is necessary and that's just how it is going to be." Because my dad was a college athlete, too. He had offers from Wisconsin, Michigan State and Michigan and a bunch of schools, but it was due to his grades, he couldn't go. He built a foundation that I had to do well in school and on the field to be able to get the scholarships that I want. Like I said, he was my biggest advocate. He was my mentor. He was my best friend. He was everything to me, so losing him is hard, obviously, but now, even when I am at Minnesota, I have him with me all the time.  


Gopher Hole: You were honored at Soldier Field after the season for being one of nine winners of the Chicago Bears Weekly High School All-Star Player. What was that experience like?


Noah Hickcox: I am a Packers' fan, so I had to go to their field (Laughing). I was really honored that I even got to be there. It was really cool experience. They had it well set up for my mom and I. We got to go down on the field. It was a smooth transition going into halftime to getting the plaque, going out on the field, coming back and getting out. It was really cool because only nine kids got it, so to be a part of it of that group, I was really honored. 


Gopher Hole: How would you describe yourself as a football player?


Noah Hickcox: When it comes to football, I'm one who likes put my nose down and just do the work. Everybody talks on the field sometimes to motivate each other, but I would describe myself as a player as hard worker, driven, humble because I don't like to celebrate a lot, like having a sack. Like my pick six, I didn't celebrate it. I ran to the sidelines and had to sit down. Humble. Just an overall, I think a player with a good motor. I like to go all the time and that is why I insisted on playing both offense and defense, so I could go all the time and that's what I got to do. I always put my best foot forward. I put my foot down and just do the work and that's what I pride myself on. That is what my dad always told me to do.  


Gopher Hole: You played both sides of the field in high school. What have the coaches said about a position you would play in college?


Noah Hickcox: I'll be playing defensive tackle/defensive end. I just depends on how the summer season goes. If I stay around 270, I could be leaning towards more of a power five technique defensive end. If I go 285, 290, 295, you can see me inside and out. It just depends. Obviously, we have a lot of good defensive lineman committed right now. I think that we have four, so there is a lot of good players that we have committed, so it will be a lot of fun working with those guys and get better as a group.  


Gopher Hole: Are you playing another other sports this season?


Noah Hickcox: I did basketball my freshman year and then I swam for my high school sophomore to senior year. I'm doing track. I just got done with swimming season, so I am doing track now, but my main focus is football and getting better after school, going to the weight room and getting the job done.


Gopher Hole: A lot of Gopher fans are excited about the new guys, but a skeptic might say that we are getting nine guys who were MAC school recruits at a Big Ten school. What would you say to people who maybe question whether all you guys can play at this level?


Noah Hickcox: The way that Coach Fleck always talked to us was "We are Big Ten recruits at a MAC school," and that is how he always recruited. He always recruited big. He never went for the kids who were easy to pick up. He went for the moré difficult ones. He wanted the best players that he could get, so people can say "These are just MAC kids. They're this. They're that, but they have never seen the work that we have put in and they don't see what is behind the scenes." In the end, we are all in the Big Ten and we are going to put the work that is necessary to become successful.

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