On his very first night at Nike’s Elite 11 camp, Ben Hicks flopped into bed around 2:30 a.m., mentally and physically sapped.
Yet he knew he was exactly where he wanted to be.
Hicks sought to soak up every ounce of the Elite 11 experience, because he understood what a rare opportunity he’d been given. Then again, the Midway quarterback tends to approach even the most mundane of skill-building sessions with equal gusto.
“At the Elite 11 camp, they talked about lonely work,” Hicks said. “It’s the stuff you do that isn’t going to get you a pat on the back. Going out and running those miles when nobody can see you, watching film in order to see how to fix certain tendencies, working on my mechanics in the backyard with my dad. That stuff may not get you a pat on the back, but it’s what makes you better.”
In a nutshell, the Elite 11 is part camp, part competition involving some of the nation’s top prep quarterbacks, all of whom have qualified in order to gain entrance. The list of alumni reads like a who’s-who of the sport’s elite: Matt Leinart, Tim Tebow, Vince Young, Mark Sanchez, Matt Stafford and Jameis Winston are past attendees.
During the past week Hicks feverishly competed in a variety of contests at Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. And the Midway standout more than held his own. He ended up finishing second overall among the 18 quarterbacks invited.
Terry Gambill beamed like a proud papa when he received word on how Hicks had performed. That said, the Midway coach wasn’t the least bit surprised.
“No question, when you’ve put in the preparation, it eliminates the fear factor,” Gambill said. “That’s why with anybody, I don’t care if it’s a football player or whoever, if you put in the preparation, you put yourself in position to be successful. Nobody told Ben Hicks to work like he does, that’s just who he is. He wants to make himself into the best quarterback he can be.”
Hicks wasn’t exactly a hunk of chopped liver in shoulder pads last year. In his debut season as Midway’s full-time starting QB, Hicks passed for 3,741 yards and 36 touchdowns while engineering the Panthers to a 9-3 record. Following the season, he committed to the University of Houston.
That success notwithstanding, Hicks aimed to get better. That started with ensuring that he qualified for the Elite 11 camp. Put it this way: If you were a writer and you could attend a workshop led by Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain and Emily Dickinson, would that excite you?
“You’re never going to have that many great quarterback coaches in the same place again,” Hicks said. “We called it ‘football heaven.’ It was just perfect, having all those coaches in one location. I learned so much this week.”
Hicks gained instruction from former NFL stars Trent Dilfer and Jordan Palmer, as well as college stalwarts like Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Baylor’s Bryce Petty, who accompanied him on the flight to Oregon. But the week wasn’t just about pocket presence and fade routes. Soon after arriving, the athletes were thrust into a relay race directed by several Marines that tested the limits of their stamina and perseverance.
“That really quickly started the bond, going through that with one another,” Hicks said. “I’ll never forget that first night.” It hasn’t really been a summer vacation for Hicks, but he’s OK with that. In little more than a month, he’ll be back on the field for Midway, and he seeks to carry his Elite 11 education into the fray. Hicks predicts an “unbelievable season” for the Panthers, and Gambill can envision that, too.
At the very least, the Midway coach knows that the triggerman for the offense has a steady hand.
“The position of quarterback requires so much nowadays. Not only does he have to be able to throw the football, but there’s so much reading he has to do,” Gambill said. “He has to understand coverages, he needs to know if we’re in the right formation before the ball is snapped. He has to be a communicator, a great leader.
“Ben’s not afraid to be that leader. He’s driven, and he’s constantly working all the time, and our other players feed off that. We’re very fortunate to have Ben on our football team.”