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Hicks, UCF have great
By Sean Ryan
the span of a year, D.J. Hicks (left) has gone from uncertainty
to undoubtedly one of the best players in Conference USA.
Hicks, a redshirt junior first baseman/pitcher at
UCF, entered last season a bit of a question mark after missing
almost his entire sophomore season with a lung injury. Fast
forward a year and he’s the C-USA preseason player of the year
and one of many reasons the Knights are optimistic about
improving on last year’s NCAA Tournament team, their first
appearance in seven years.
“The expectation for him is to be a leader for us
every single day that he shows up to the field and be an example
for our players,” UCF coach Terry Rooney said. “Every single
day, he’s done that. He has flourished in that role.
“For us to have a great year, D.J. Hicks has to
have a great year. It’s pretty simple.”
It may sound as if Rooney has great expectations
for Hicks and his Knights. That’s exactly the point.
“Our theme for our team is ‘Good to Great,’” said
Rooney, whose squad went 39-23 a year ago. “We were good last
year, we want to be great.”
eyes will be on Dalton James Hicks, who always has gone by D.J.
and “was confused when I went to kindergarten, it said Dalton on
Hicks, a 6-5, 240-pounder, returns to the middle
of the lineup after a splendid redshirt sophomore season when he
hit a team-best .351 with 14 homers, 66 RBI and a .583 slugging
percentage. He was the lefty-hitting power complement to
right-handed Jonathan Griffin (.343/19/58), who was drafted by
Arizona in the 21st round, one of seven Knights to be drafted
Hicks doesn’t feel any pressure.
Pressure is seeing your career hang in the
After a freshman season in which he hit .301 with
32 RBI and went 4-5 as a starter on the mound, Hicks was
enjoying a summer with the Luray Wranglers of the Valley
Baseball League in Virginia. In a game late in the season, he
dove for a ball while playing first base.
“I remember diving and feeling a little bit of
something,” Hicks said. “The next inning I doubled, and I had
The next morning, he “felt almost like a
bouncing” in his right chest while walking and had more trouble
breathing. Not thinking it was anything serious, Hicks took a
week off then played the final week of the season before
returning home to Altamonte Springs, Fla.
A couple weeks later, Hicks was back on campus.
As he stepped out of his car to attend the Knights’ first team
meeting in the fall of 2009, he felt the same pain as he
initially felt when he was injured. Hicks tried to hit a little
that week but was in too much pain.
Trainers couldn’t find anything wrong but set him
up with a rib specialist. Still looking for a cause for the
pain, Hicks next went to a general practitioner. After some
X-rays, the mystery was solved: Hicks had a collapsed right
soon as he got the X-ray, he said you’re not allowed to leave my
sight,” Hicks said. “He was more concerned that I had gone so
long. He said it’s obviously not good to be walking around with
one healthy lung.”
Hicks had surgery that night, a simpler surgery
that would cause less recovery time. When that procedure didn’t
work, Hicks had a second, more intensive surgery a week later.
All told, he spent 16 days in the hospital.
The road back was unknown.
Doctors thought Hicks could miss as little as
eight months and as much as a year and a half. Hicks couldn’t
lift or play baseball for five months. Because of the
inactivity, he gained some weight, but ended up losing about 15
pounds. He tried to come back in early March after missing UCF’s
first seven games but could only muster six games.
“Each day got worse and worse,” Hicks said.
He sat out the rest of the year and was granted a
“That was the first time in my life I’ve ever had
to sit out one or two games,” Hicks said.
Rooney said, “It was hard on D.J. It was hard on
our kids. He’s one of our leaders.”
Hicks took the time off as an opportunity to
learn. He hung around Rooney and then associate head coach Cliff
Godwin. He picked their brains and studied UCF’s hitters,
listening as the coaches made adjustments with his teammates.
“At the end of the day, I think it really
helped,” he said. “I learned a little more from the outside view
than as a player.”
he returned last year, Hicks primarily served as the Knights’
designated hitter; he also logged 12 innings on the hill. Even
though he wasn’t 100 percent, he put together a monster year and
was named to the C-USA’s second team.
“It gave me, I don’t want to say drive, but I
think it gave me a little more extra than I think other players
know they have,” Hicks said of being injured. “You know what
your body can handle.”
Now Hicks, a 49th round pick of San Francisco out
of high school, is coming off a summer when he led the Cape Cod
League with seven homers. He is part of a terrific cast that
includes veterans Ronnie Richardson (.312/2/34), Travis Shreve
(.302/0/20/22 SB), Erik Hempe (.307/7/29) and Darnell Sweeney
And he’s finally healthy.
“Right now, the first thing is to take it from
‘Good to Great,’” Hicks said. “We’re all proud as a team of what
we accomplished last year. At the end of the day it’s not what
we set out for.”
(photos courtesy of UCF
Media Relations Office)