Mylan Hicks was a football coach’s dream.
Blessed with speed and athleticism to dazzle on the field, Hicks also had the humility to accept criticism and coaching. And he always did it with a smile, according to his former high school coach.
“He was a very caring young man, very, very friendly,” Antonio Watts said Monday, a day after the Stampeders rookie was shot and killed outside a Calgary nightclub.
“Even on the field when there’d be those times when players could get heated, he’d never lose his temper.”
Nelson Tony Lugela, 19, was charged Monday with second-degree murder in the death of the 23-year-old Hicks.
Hicks was in his first CFL season and on Calgary’s practice roster. He was celebrating with teammates following a 36-34 home win over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Saturday, the Stampeders’ 10th straight victory that improved their league-best record to 11-1-1.
Hicks played four seasons under Watts at Detroit’s Renaissance High School, starring both at running back and in the secondary. But Hicks also excelled in the classroom as Watts said students must not only write an entrance test to enrol but also maintain solid grades to stay at the school.
“Mylan was much more than just a football player,” Watts said. “He graduated with over a 3.0 grade-point average and never got into any trouble at any time.
“Some of the teachers who are here and some who’ve actually left the school have called me saying Mylan was one of their favourites. He was very well loved and never any problem.”
That’s why Watts, a math teacher at Renaissance, has trouble believing Hicks was part of an altercation at the Calgary club. Police say several people were involved in an incident inside the club and that it escalated in the parking lot. They say they don’t know if Hicks was targeted.
“He was never that type of young man,” Watts said. “He was always respectful, always polite . . . he was always happy, that was just him.”
Watch below: Ongoing Global News coverage of Mylan Hicks’ death
Following a stellar career at Renaissance, Hicks attended Michigan State University on a scholarship and played cornerback, safety and linebacker.
Darien Harris, who played with Hicks at Michigan State University, said the football player “lit up the room with his presence.”
“Extremely joyful and extremely happy to be alive and extremely smart,” Harris told Calgary’s News Talk 770.
Harris was a year behind Hicks in school and said he really looked up to him as a player.
“He came in highly-touted, had to battle injuries and had to work his way through the ranks,” Harris said. “He left it all out there, all on the line, and he really inspired us every day.”
As time went on, their relationship moved beyond teammates and the pair became good friends.
“He’s a guy you wanted to be around. He’s a guy that made every day fun, he made practice fun. You just wanted to be with him day in and day out and it was a pleasure to know him.”
After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in psychology, Hicks signed as an undrafted free agent with the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers in 2015.
He was released before training camp ended then signed with Calgary in May. Watts said while Hicks was determined to play pro football, he also understood the importance of having an education.
“He was going to chase his dream in football and if that didn’t pan out he’d still have something to fall back on, that was always his mindset,” Watts said. “When it came down to it, several schools were after him for football but he chose Michigan State because of academics as well as football.
“That was always one of the top things he was interested in.”
Before high school, Hicks played youth football with the Detroit Dragons. Club president Mike Williams coached Hicks both with the Dragons and at Renaissance and said while Hicks was a bona fide star, he remained a team player.
“He always paid attention to detail and wanted to do that little extra to get better,” Williams said. “Mylan was a smart kid.
“He could do whatever he put his heart and mind to. He could be whatever he wanted to be.”
Hicks also ran track, participated in off-season weightlifting sessions and helped tutor students at Renaissance as part of Watts’ off-season programs.
“Detroit is a pretty rough city,” Watts said. “You have certain parts that are rough and you have certain schools that are pretty rough.
“Mylan stayed away from all that by playing football with the Detroit Dragons. When he got here to Renaissance, I made sure my boys were involved in after-school tutoring, they also ran track, played baseball and basketball and lifted weights because we wanted to keep them away from the streets, which Mylan always did. He was here around us for at least 12 hours a day.”
Watts said Hicks was a very easy player to coach.
“It was always, ‘Yes coach. No coach. Yes sir. No sir,'” Watts said. “He took constructive criticism very well and never talked back to anybody, any coach and never asked, ‘Why?’
“A couple of times I had to pull him out of a game but there was never any attitude. Some kids would be, ‘My stats. Why am I not playing?’ but he never questioned our decision-making. He was always respective, a great person. I was really broken up (Sunday), I still am.”
With files from Caley Ramsay, Global News and News Talk 770.