Ohio State football: Alter grad Hicks making early impression

Freshman linebacker’s ‘upside is fantastic’

COLUMBUS -- C.J. Hicks has not wasted any time getting noticed at Ohio State.

The freshman from Alter is adding a game to go with the name that has been on recruiting radars since he was a freshman standout for the Knights.

“Man, his upside is fantastic,” said first-year Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, who also coaches the linebackers. “He really has a great quickness and athleticism that you don’t see out of many linebackers at that size. So it’s just a matter of how quickly can he learn, get himself up to speed so that he can use those tools.”

ExploreKnowles gives his overview of the defense so far

The 6-foot-3 Hicks started out as a cornerback at Alter but did a little bit of everything by the time he was done there, including playing safety, punt returner, running back and receiver.

Now listed at 225 pounds, he already looks the part of a college linebacker as he works on special teams and takes what reps he can get with the defense.

“He’s a great ballplayer,” fellow linebacker Cody Simon said this week. “He’s young and he’s still learning, but he’s physical and he can go. With his burst, he can make some plays, and he’s already made plays out in camp so far.”

The latest example came Thursday when Hicks intercepted a pass during a late portion of practice reserved for youngsters on the team to get work.

“Sometimes he’ll get out there and he’ll make first- or second-team guys look silly,” junior Steele Chambers said. “He’s a great guy. Great competitor, great athlete — just great overall person. Doing really great out there. You can see it translate.”

Earning playing time on defense this season figures to be a huge challenge for Hicks, but there is no rush.

“Sometimes when you’re thinking too much, you can’t use your tools, right?” Knowles said. “So we’ll just keep working with C.J. so that when he gets it down, so he can really cut it loose, but I think his upside is gonna be amazing.”

Hicks is not the only first-year player from Southwest Ohio to get some early notice in camp.

Former Lakota West standouts Jyaire Brown and Tegra Tshabola both were mentioned Thursday when Day assessed the eight days of preseason practice.

He said he has seen Tshabola, a four-star offensive line recruit, flash at times and praised Brown for being ready to step in when some of his older teammates at cornerback were banged up.

“Jyaire, he got his black stripe off,” Day said, referring to a rite of passage exercise for freshmen at Ohio State. “That was great. He and JK Johnson had some good days out there, so it’s been good to see them compete.”

Brown, who was also a four-star prospect and the No 8 prospect in Ohio according to 247Sports Composite rankings, could be a little closer to seeing the field this fall because depth is a greater concern at his position.

Competition is not hard to find, though.

“The whole idea here at Ohio State is you’re playing against really good players on the other side of the ball. And you feel like if those guys can cover Jaxon (Smith-Njigba) they can feel confident going into the season knowing that they played against really good player.”

Tshabola, who was the No. 6 prospect in the state last year and No. 104 nationally, projects as a guard in college, but he and the rest of the freshmen offensive linemen started out working at tackle in the preseason.

“If a guy can potentially play out there, then you get the guy on the edge so that he feels the speed of the game out there,” new OSU offensive line coach Justin Frye said. “And then as you move in, you feel more the physicality versus if you start everybody hunkered down inside and then you try to work out, it’s just a different animal out on an island.

“So I think it’s a good teaching progression for those guys if they can handle it: Those guys learning the speed, learning the things out there and then kind of reeling it back if you need to.”

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