tampabay.com

For Hawk, no room for errors

By KEITH NIEBUHR
Published September 16, 2005


SEFFNER - Justin Hickman wasn't in the mood.

To talk.

To laugh.

Heck, to move.

On the day after he quarterbacked Armwood to a season-opening 21-20 loss to archrival Hillsborough, a disappointed Hickman sat in bed most of the day thinking about what might have been.

"I didn't get up until about 5 p.m.," he said. "It took me until Monday to get over it."

For Hickman, this was typical behavior.

He's not a sore loser.

Just a perfectionist.

Win or lose, he critiques his play. Every game. Every series. Every snap. He takes his football seriously, so much so coaches kiddingly tell him he needs to smile more.

"He's very competitive," Hawks coach Sean Callahan said.

And thus far, very good.

Since losing the opener, Armwood has won consecutive games by a combined 86-7 and Hickman has been a huge part of that success. After three games, the 6-foot, 170-pound junior has passed for 443 yards and four touchdowns while completing 19-of-31 (he also has run for a score).

He passed for 262 yards against Durant and 124 more against Plant City, which are impressive statistics for any quarterback let alone one who guides more of a running offense.

"After the loss he was down, but he didn't let it bother him for long," wide receiver D.J. Mitchell said. "He's one of the hardest-working kids I know."

Hickman has to be.

That's because he didn't replace just any starting quarterback this fall. He succeeded Jameel Williams (who's now at Bethune-Cookman), an all-state performer and one of the most successful prep signal callers in state history. With Williams under center, the Hawks won back-to-back state titles.

"There was definitely some pressure," Hickman said.

But definitely no worries.

At least not on the sidelines or in the huddle. Callahan has praised Hickman repeatedly, calling him a faster and stronger-armed version of Williams. Meantime, Hickman's teammates have praised his leadership.

"He's very vocal," Mitchell said.

Hickman never doubted he could succeed this fall, largely because of a single performance last year. By coincidence, it came against Jefferson, whom Armwood plays tonight. With Williams out of action because of an ankle injury, Hickman made his first varsity start and responded by passing for 136 yards and a touchdown.

Armwood won 54-7.

"I wasn't that nervous," Hickman said. "I knew it wasn't all on me."

A year later, Hickman says he is stronger and faster.

Because of it, his expectations have risen.

"I like being the leader on the team," Hickman said. "I've always been a leader. I like to have things in my hands, on my shoulders."