A relative unknown entering training camp, rookie Frankie Hickson has quickly become the odds-on favourite to win the Saskatchewan Roughriders starting running back job.
The Liberty University product was coached by an offensive staff that included legendary Rider quarterback and head coach Kent Austin in the NCAA. He has been turning heads in Riderville and did more of the same Tuesday night in a preseason-opening loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at Mosaic Stadium.
Aside from Hickson’s impressive 7.8 yards per carry, it might be what another running back can do that ultimately earns him a spot on the roster come opening day.
Jamal Morrow, who many thought would replace William Powell after leaving for the Ottawa Redblacks via free agency in the offseason, has proven to be a capable returner. That’s evidenced by his punt return touchdown in last November’s West Semi-Final win over the Calgary Stampeders which proved to ultimately be the difference in a Roughrider win that needed overtime.
That opens the door for a capable running back like Hickson to be the featured man in Jason Maas’ offence to allow Morrow to focus his efforts more on returns. Hickson doesn’t feel pressure to stand above the crowd even though he entered camp as a virtual nobody.
“I hold myself to a standard, but I don’t feel pressure and I don’t feel anxiety,” Hickson said.
“I go out there and I just do the very best that I can do and leave the results up to God and that’s all I can do.”
Getting on the field for an actual game has raised his confidence level as Hickson feels he’s improved each day that he’s been in Canada which is nearly a month now. Still, he confesses to being a bit nervous about the cutdowns ahead after Friday’s final preseason game in B.C.
“No matter what happens in the next week, you just keep fighting,” Hickson said.
“If I told you I didn’t get nervous, I’d be lying to you. Definitely some nerves there but I can enjoy the time here with the guys I’ve met.”
Hickson appears to be a power back who could be complimented nicely in the backfield by Morrow. The other running back in the mix, Shaquille Cooper was used on kickoff returns and could play special teams if the team decides they would rather have Morrow focus on becoming the featured ball carrier.
Head coach Craig Dickenson has said the scenario of keeping two American running backs to allow one to focus on returning kicks is likely.
Barring any unforeseen events between now and the weekend, the chances of Hickson winning the job as starting running back for the Roughriders looks very good and no one could’ve guessed that entering the preseason.