Feature Story on Bucknell Track & Field Star Justin Hicks
By Emily Novak, Bucknell Athletic Communications Student Assistant
One look at Justin Hicks' repertoire of track and field achievements is enough to convince anyone that he has been running track for the greater part of his life. But the Bucknell University junior has competed in just four outdoor track seasons and only two indoor seasons throughout his high school and college careers. In fact, his high school involvement with the sport came by chance when the head track coach at Tower Hill School approached him during his junior year and asked him to come out for the team. Hicks had played on the baseball squad as a pinch runner his freshman year of high school and then took up golf in the spring of his sophomore year. He was reluctant at first because, in addition to playing golf, he wanted to spend the spring lifting and preparing himself for the start of the football season in the fall. After participating in his first track meet and winning all of his events, the sport quickly became a source of enjoyment for Hicks.
"The good things kept happening," Hicks recalls. "My coach was surprised at how well I was doing, I was surprised at how well I was doing and from that point onward, track just sort of became the number one priority."
Prioritizing track proved to have immediate results for Hicks. He won the 2008 Delaware State Championship in both the 100- and 200-meter dash in just his first outdoor season.
"I got to the state meet and just put it all together," Hicks says of winning the state titles as a rookie to the sport.
He repeated as state champion in the 100 the following year.
Referring to the pressure of defending his state titles in just his second track season Hicks says, "It had its good things about it and it had its bad things about it."
Ultimately, Hicks believes the pressure enabled him to perform better than he otherwise would have.
Prior to his success on the track, Hicks was a serious football player in high school. In fact, at the start of his senior year he was most heavily recruited to play football in college. He also played varsity basketball and, following his 2009 nomination as a McDonald's All-American in his senior year, received considerable attention from college recruiters on the hardwood as well. But despite this consideration, Hicks knew that track was his best bet for developing his name as a collegiate athlete.
"I knew speed was just naturally what I had. Not that I was going to be better than everyone [if I ran in college], but I knew I would at least be in the mix if I did something with track," mentions Hicks.
Hicks' desire to make an impact was one of the biggest factors in his decision to come to Bucknell.
"There was definitely a role [open for me at Bucknell]," says Hicks.
Kevin Donner, Bucknell's 11th-year head track and field coach, echoes this sentiment. "We felt Justin would make an immediate impact - he was a pretty high-level recruit for us. Patriot League schools, in general, have not been successful at recruiting high-level short sprinters. And the times that he ran in high school were faster than the kids we already had on the team. So we knew he was going to make an immediate impact for us."
And have an impact he did. In his first indoor track season ever - having played basketball during the winter season in high school - he won the Rookie of the Meet award at the 2010 Patriot League Championship. This award proved to be an accurate indicator of the success Hicks would have as a Bucknell sprinter. He was a member of the 4x100 relay team that set a school record at Patriots during the 2011 outdoor season. This achievement went farther than just the record books for Hicks.
In reference to 2011 graduates Marlon Woods and Isaih Bell, who ran with him on the record-breaking 4x100 relay team, Hicks says, "Those two guys definitely molded me as the Bucknell runner that I am today."
Having missed the 2011 indoor track season due to an MCL injury, this year's campaign was just Hicks' second time competing in indoor events. Nevertheless, he set a school record in the 60 at the Patriot League Championship this past February. At this same meet, he tied the school record in the 200.
"It's motivation. It's motivation for me next year, now that I know I can run that time," says Hicks of his Patriot League Championship performance that helped the Bison claim their first indoor Patriot League crown in 19 years.
Hicks recalls that Bucknell came close to winning the title in the previous two seasons, but says, "This year it was right there for us to grab it. All we had to do was just focus in and grab it and we did. It was exciting."
Apart from his record-book-worthy performances at the indoor Patriot League Championship, Hicks also won the accolade of Patriot League Track Athlete of the Meet, becoming just the second Bucknell runner to be honored with the award. When asked about the honor, Hicks takes a humble attitude.
"I mean I know that I've done pretty well and ran pretty well, but I want to attribute [this award] to my coaches, especially Coach (Richard) Alexander and Coach (Danielle) Lynch. They definitely know the ways to motivate me."
Furthermore, he focuses on having a team mentality in order to perform his best.
"You want to get first place because first place is going to get you the most points for your team," explains Hicks. "Because I was thinking about the team winning, that actually helped me a lot."
Referring to his mentality just before the finals in the 60, Hicks recalls, "I was thinking, `I just need to win this race. I can't let anybody beat me.' I wasn't worried about my time. I was just thinking, `We need these points.' It's definitely a team mentality."
Hicks planned to use his record-breaking performance in the 60 as a springboard heading into the outdoor season, where the events are slightly different distances.
"Knowing that I can run the time that I ran [in the 60], that's obviously going to help my 100 because I felt like the weakest part of my race was probably my start," says Hicks, whose favorite race is the 100. "And the 60 basically comes down to your start because it's so short. Honestly, you can have one breath and the race can be over."
Hicks has indeed had success in the 100 this outdoor season, finishing first in the event at both the Towson Invitational and, more recently, the Bucknell Team Challenge. His season-best performance in the 100 at the Bison Outdoor Classic earned him a spot at the IC4A Championships, which will follow the outdoor Patriot League Championship meet. Hicks' 4x100 relay team also finished first at the Bucknell Team Challenge.
Hicks' success and determination extend further than just the track. In addition to pursuing a degree in neuroscience and overloading in course requirements for the semester, he works on-campus as a Resident Assistant, a recycling monitor, and a caller for Bucknell's Student Calling Program. When asked about his future, Hicks says he would eventually like to go to medical school, but he is keeping his options open.
"Things can change. So it depends on who talks to me. You just never know what will happen - so we will see, I guess."
This open-minded attitude has served Hicks well so far. After all, if he did not have an open mind when the Tower Hill track coach spoke to him his junior year of high school, he would not have developed into the record-breaking Bucknell sprinter that he is today.