By Trey Williams
Anyone shooting at Daniel Boone’s career rushing mark must reach for the Sky.
Although he was often running against overloaded-box defenses, Sky Hicks helped Daniel Boone defeat Greeneville for the first time in 25 years, beat Elizabethton for the first time ever and top David Crockett each of his final three seasons while piling up 4,416 career rushing yards.
The 5-foot-8, 190-pound Hicks had 4.5 speed by the time he was a senior in 2005, a year in which he became Boone’s first back to rush for 2,000 yards. He ran 13 times for 212 yards and two TDs (66- and 89-yards) in a 35-14 victory against Greeneville that season despite gashing his chin in the first quarter, which required a packed bandage to dam the blood during the game and six stitches afterward.
Hicks ran 29 times for 256 yards and three TDs in a 35-28 win against Elizabethton in the first round of the playoffs his senior season. Again, it was the 35-year-old Boone program’s first win against the Cyclones.
“That was a really intense game,” Hicks said. “As much as we had a rivalry with Crockett, there was definitely some healthy animosity with Elizabethton. We always tried to play Elizabethton extremely hard.
“They were always a good team. They were always fundamentally sound and they could move the ball through the air. They just had a way of always getting you at the last second.”
There was no such fear while trouncing David Crockett 48-7 two weeks earlier in the Musket Bowl. Hicks rushed for five TDs in the first three quarters and Boone claimed the musket with a third straight victory.
“We pretty much just wanted to go out there and dominate them as much as we could dominate them,” Hicks said. “We had no intention of letting up or going easy. Like, we were gonna absolutely just go ahead and make the mark. That was the final time we were gonna be in the Musket Bowl as high school players.”
Offensive lineman Jesse Osborne recalls the postgame as vividly as anything from that night.
“This was one of the years where we would receive the musket, an actual musket gun, after the game,” Osborne said. “Sky stood in the middle of the seniors and ‘shot’ each of us and we would fall down until he was surrounded by slain teammates. This was very memorable, even though I don’t think the cleverness of it would be as greatly appreciated this day and age. …
“Sky was the most athletic individual I had ever seen play football. He had the raw and natural talents that couldn’t be taught. Practice for him was learning the plays and finding out how to incorporate his talent into them.”
Hicks comes from an athletic family. His parents were in the Air Force, where they played on intramural teams in volleyball and softball. His dad played football in high school and was a Golden Gloves boxer. His uncle was an all-state wrestler.
And Hicks went to the AAU nationals for karate. But he wasn’t a sports nerd.
“One would imagine that the star running back would be your stereotypical jock,” Osborne said, “but not Sky. Oftentimes our practices had more talk about World of Warcraft and Halo than the plays we were running. However, we were able to produce.
“We would turn quotes from movies into calls relaying if we were going to pull or double-team. One call for pulling on a trap play would be a quote from “Team America: World Police”. Sky knew the offensive line calls and would even yell them in practice to get a good laugh.”
The ‘Blazers went 9-3 Hicks’ senior season, which ended with a 14-7 loss to Sullivan South. The Rebels had sophomore quarterback Curt Phillips (Wisconsin).
“We did a real good job of containing him most of the game,” Hicks said. “I still remember the thing that got us was we were driving down the field and trying to get a late score and I think we threw a pick about midfield.”
Hicks did run for a 27-yard TD in the fourth quarter despite South not honoring the threat of a passing game. Boone was 3-of-9 passing with two interceptions.
“They had stacked the box,” said Hicks, who was accustomed to such schemes. “It was pretty intimidating sometimes when you’re going right up the middle and they’ve pretty much got at least two people keyed on you.”
Hicks played his final two seasons at Boone for former Sullivan South coach Jeremy Jenkins, a no-nonsense, old-school son of a coach. Carl Richards, considerably more laid-back, had preceded the succinct, salty Jenkins.
“I wanna say when we were freshmen and sophomores that a lot of us would refer to Coach Richards as ‘Daddy,’” Hicks said, “whereas I don’t think there was any sort of nickname for Coach Jenkins besides ‘Coach Jenkins.’”
The driven Hicks enjoyed Richards, but responded to Jenkins’ demanding style, too.
“He had more expectations for me than I had for myself most of the time, Hicks said. “I remember having to come in the morning to make up a (weightlifting) session and he would be the only one in the weight room sitting at that table in the corner of the weight room, and you’d come in and he’d go, ‘Mornin’ Hicksie.’
“And he would sit there right behind you breathing down your neck pushing you like, ‘You can get it. Come on.’ He would be right there the entire time making sure you were pushing yourself as hard as you possibly could.”
Jenkins’ weight room motivation got results.
“Sky was always one of the strongest in the weight room too,” Osborne said. “You could work all summer increasing your lifts, only to have you max the same as a weight Sky would work out with.”
Jenkins doesn’t toss around superlatives, but Hicks draws praise from him.
“Sky was a tremendous talent and great competitor,” Jenkins said. “We have had some really good backs here but he had the quickest feet and ran behind his pads better than anyone. He was one of those players that had the alpha mindset. He made everyone around him better.”
Those around him that Hicks enjoyed playing with included quarterbacks Ryne Huff and Ben Fox, receiver Bret Ploucha, Taylor Guinn, Osborne and fellow offensive lineman Brandon Nave.
“Brandon and Jesse were my two big guys that were always opening stuff up,” Hicks said. “I loved watching Taylor Guinn play defense. That dude would just sacrifice his body. He would throw himself at people with everything he had.”
Hicks recalled either WCYB or WJHL rewarding Guinn with the “Hit of the Night” one week. The pad-popper materialized when an opponent elected not to make a fair catch on a punt.
“Taylor hit him right as the ball hit his hands and that dude just crumbled,” Hicks said. “He hit him so hard. And that was frequent – to watch Taylor hit people absurdly hard. And he practiced just like he played, which was all-out. I always thought that was fun to watch.”
An excellent student, Hicks hoped to be a preferred walk-on at Vanderbilt or Wake Forest. But when responses were relatively slow he opted for Centre College in Danville, Kentucky thanks, in part, to Daniel Boone assistant Josh Elliott, who had played baseball there.
But Hicks tore up his knee in fall camp his freshman year and while spending much of the season on crutches decided against any more college football. He was optimistic about being No. 2 on the depth chart as a freshman behind “stud” senior Adam Blandford.
“In the limited time that I was in that capacity I was doing really well,” he said. “But I blew out my left knee. They ended up having to shave the back of my kneecap.”
It concluded a career that Hicks said was launched by the passion of Tony Metcalf. Hicks began playing for Metcalf’s Cowboys in the third grade at the Johnson City Boys & Girls Club.
“I would probably say Tony Metcalf was the sole reason I loved football as much as I did and played as long as I did,” Hicks said. “His Cowboys team was always winning the league or on the top of the league and he was all about fundamentals and learning the game at a very fundamental level and making sure assignments were done correctly – blocking, running, holding the football, catching the football. You know, he was a lot like Coach Jenkins in that way, making sure all of that was taken care of. It was funny, I remember going out to the first practice … and he says ‘What do you want to play?’ And I said, ‘I want to play quarterback.’ So he let me try out at quarterback and he said, ‘Why don’t we try something else. You’re a little short to play quarterback.’ I was horrible at throwing a football.
“He was like, ‘Why don’t you try running the football?’ And that was it. He handed me the football a couple of times and I was like, ‘I like this.’”
Hicks remained at Centre and received a degree in biology. He and his wife, who live in Clarksville, have worked as travel nurses, and Hicks recently began pursuit of his psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner degree.
Hicks is one-eighth Cherokee and grew up on the eastern edge of Washington County on a ridge beside the Watauga River. His mother liked the name Sky, perhaps with respect to Native American taste. Hicks named his children Sage (6-year-old son) and River (1-year-old daughter).
It’ll come as no surprise if they grow up with dreams of going Sky-high.
Certainly, Hicks wanted to reach the top at Boone, especially after repeatedly hearing about 1,000-yard rusher Shawn Hogan while he was playing for Rick Runyan at Boones Creek Middle School.
“Shawn Hogan was the big thing in high school when I was in middle school and I remember Coach Runyan was decent friends with Shawn,” Hicks said. “I used to get in little spats with Coach Runyan all the time and he would mention Shawn. And I started developing this little internal rivalry with someone who probably didn’t even know who I was.”
Hicks recalled being at Boone for a team function or game while he was in middle school when it essentially came to a head.
“It was always ‘Shawn Hogan’ this and ‘Shawn Hogan’ that,” Hicks said. “I told some of my teammates, ‘I don’t know what all Shawn Hogan’s doing over at this high school but when I get over here I’m gonna break every record they’ve got.’ And then I was just really dedicated going into high school. I did school work and I just lived and breathed football.”