This story originally appeared in Cal's Kickoff Game Progam on Sept. 27, 2008.
By Chris DeConna, California Media Relations
It's easy to spot Cal senior safety Bernard Hicks on the field - the menacing 5-11, 210-pound product of Fresno is always looking to make a big play, ideally a punishing hit on a cocky receiver venturing into the middle.
Through his five years with the Golden Bears, Hicks' teammates have not even been immune to his vengeance - in the first scrimmage of fall camp, Hicks tagged wide receiver Nyan Boateng, who was leaping in the air trying to corral a ball in the end zone. All receivers need to be aware that he patrols the secondary with sheer force.
Entering the Colorado State game, Hicks has accumulated 112 tackles, four interceptions and 10 pass break ups during his tenure in a Golden Bear uniform. But what people may not know is that Hicks can be seen as a powerful force on another field - at schools in his hometown, where he serves as a mentor to many of the area's youth.
Following Cal's Armed Forces Bowl victory last December, Hicks found himself searching for more in life than just x's and o's on the gridiron. He wanted to make an impact off the field as well. The hard-hitting athlete began to reach out to various schools in Fresno and engage in guest speaking.
"For the last two years, I've really taken it upon myself to get involved and make a difference in kids' lives," said Hicks. "I want to see more kids graduate and succeed. I want to see children succeed. Maybe if they see me and look up to me, then they will be motivated to make a better life for themselves.
"It started right after the 2007 season I hooked up with a couple of people in Fresno," explained Hicks. "I made a few appearances [at area schools] and really got involved with some of their lives, explaining about life and talking about setting up goals and having backup plans. As an African-American studies major, I've taken the time to learn about different cultures and I want to help others who are disadvantaged. It makes me feel good that I can be someone they look up to."
Mentoring a younger generation isn't the only thing that has helped Hicks mature as a person. The bonds of the California football family, the highs of winning and the lows of defeat have all contributed to his growth.
"As a person, I feel that I have matured tremendously," said Hicks. "I can look back and see the things I used to do coming into the program at 17 years old. I can say to myself, "What was I thinking?" or `I [sure] had to be mature for my age.' So there were some good and some bad things [that I went through]. But it was this program that matured me into the man that I am today. I learned to be on time for meetings, to show up when you need to show up, to be accountable and to be able to communicate with others. I think [the lessons learned from this program] have transferred to other aspects of my life to where others have taken notice of my maturity."
Others have taken notice, especially the younger defensive backs. Hicks takes the time to instruct and guide his younger comrades, but at the same time allows them to learn on their own. The same lessons passed on to him by players such as Daymeion Hughes, who is now in his second year in the NFL.
"We have quite a few new DBs here," said Hicks. "So there are some things you want to say or explain so they don't go down the wrong path but there are some things that they have to learn on their own. On the field things, they have to learn for themselves, but if it's something negative off the field, then I try to stop it before it gets too big."
For Hicks, being a senior has been an emotional journey thus far. He approaches every game as if it were his last. He is quick to sing the praises of his teammates and always ready to go to work when his name is called.
"I always heard the saying, `one day at a time' as a youngster in the program," recalls Hicks. "You hear it but until you grow up and mature, you don't understand what it means. You really cherish these days - one day at a time. Camp wasn't tough for me because I took it one day at a time, and I'm doing all the things I need to be doing - always learning, always being coachable, and just being able to fly around and make plays, hit people and do something I love to do."