Ask Kent Hicks about the intricacies of punting and watch as his mile-wide grin stretches a tiny bit further.
The Westshore Rebels’ plus-sized punter – he stands 6’4” and weighs 290 pounds – is unusually imposing for the position. He certainly has a lot of power behind his kicks, but it’s much more than that, he explained.
“I actually know how to kick. I know how to spin the ball properly, take it from the hip down, drop angles, everything … After people see me kick they say, ‘oh yeah, he can kick,’” he said.
Head coach J.C. Boice was admittedly a bit skeptical when his hulking star defensive lineman told him he could kick.
“When he said ‘coach I can punt’ … I didn’t really take him seriously,” Boice said. “We watched him and we were just floored. He’s just a very explosive athlete.”
For Hicks, whose “day job” involves terrorizing opposing offensive linemen and quarterbacks as a formidable member of the Rebels’ stout defensive line, punting and kicking have been part of his game since he started playing in a community league at the age of six.
When the Rebels were looking for a new punter earlier this year, they held a sort of open tryout at practice. Multiple players stepped up and gave it a shot, but it was Hicks that stood out.
The Abbotsford native has taken the job and flourished. Last Saturday, in the Rebels’ crucial win over the previously unbeaten Okanagan Sun, Hicks was called on to punt nine times, the majority of which came in a slow first half for the Westshore offence. Hicks averaged a solid 38.6 yards on his kicks, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The former Manitoba Bison frequently pinned the Sun deep in their own territory, sometimes inside their own 10 yard line, giving the Rebels a “leg up” in the battle for field position. His punting was one of the reasons Westshore was able to hold the Sun to 10 first half points, making the Rebels’ first-half offensive struggles less impactful.
Hicks’s signature punting moment came on Aug. 27 against the Valley Huskers.
The Rebels maintained a lead throughout much of the contest against the overmatched Huskers, but it wasn’t quite the all-out blowout that many expected. In the second half, the game was still in the balance when Hicks was called upon for a punt from Rebel territory.
His kick was not one of his best, but he more than made up for it when he hustled down the field and recovered his own kick.
“I kicked it, and it was a bit of a shank … I just took off down the field for the ball,” he recalled. “I saw it in that guy’s face that was trying to recover the ball … he tried to dive for that ball but it was too late. I already had my mind on that mission.”
“It shows you what a hustler Kent Hicks is,” Boice said. “He’s a very driven individual … to boot the ball and be one of the first guys down there it shows you his competitive nature and his athletic ability.”
Of course, Hicks’s primary responsibility remains on the defensive line and he’s having a standout season in that regard as well.
“He’s incredibly disruptive. As an offensive guy, you’re always looking at who they have over there that can take us out of our comfort zone,” Boice said. “He’s a great athlete, he’s got a high football acumen and he’s very driven.”
Hicks has tallied 13 tackles, three sacks and one forced fumble across six games, playing a key role in the the team’s pass rush and against the run.
Defensive linemen have a variety of techniques at their disposal and Hicks likes to dabble in just about all of them, preferring the push and pull method, but also employing a classic swim move against shorter opponents.
“I also just sometimes throw in that nice bull rush because it always catches people off guard … they’re expecting something fancy,” Hicks said.
Off the field, he has quickly become one of the team’s leaders as well.
“Kent Hicks has been the absolute surprise of our recruiting class. We knew we were getting a very good defensive lineman, but I did not know what a great young man and leader Kent is. He has integrity, he has work ethic, he has passion and he has conviction,” Boice said.
He’s also got a friendly nature and a canyon-sized smile that makes one wonder how Hicks can excel at a sport like football that requires aggression and a bit of a mean streak.
His dream is to play professional football and this year he’ll be eligible for the CFL draft. If any of the CFL’s nine teams are looking for a skilled defensive lineman who can also handle punting duties, they’ll know who to call.