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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
TAMPA - Halfway through the first quarter, Justin Hickman's left shoulder had been lodged in the turf on a vicious sack, causing Armwood's quarterback to grimace and groan as he walked to the sideline.
A couple of hours later, that same shoulder was being shrugged in a gesture of agony-free nonchalance.
"Ain't no more pain," he said.
Hickman isn't likely to ever let on just how hurt he was while mounting the comeback of his life Friday at Jefferson. Suffice to say, if the clavicle in question needs ice, he can just siphon some from his veins.
Hickman, who would need 2-inch cleats to stand 6-foot and still is awaiting his first scholarship offer, is the reason Armwood's season still has breath this morning.
"The most competitive kid I've ever coached," Hawks coach Sean Callahan said.
Down by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, Hickman administered a quadruple bypass to Armwood's triple option. The result was a 22-21 triumph, ending Dragons quarterback Stephen Garcia's brilliant career - and any talk of Armwood as one-dimensional.
On the decisive 12-play, 85-yard drive, Hickman completed five passes - equaling his completion total in the regular season meeting with Jefferson - including a 13-yard quick slant to Mywan Jackson on fourth-and-3 at midfield.
Four plays later, Hickman found Deondre Kyles on another quick slant, this time for a touchdown with 28 ticks remaining.
On the previous drive, following a critical safety, his 24-yard strike to Kyles set up Eric Smith's 2-yard TD with 7:33 to play. His final numbers: 11-for-20 for 169 yards, and 24 wins in 26 games as a starter.
"Justin Hickman refuses to lose," Hawks offensive coordinator Chris Taylor said. "He just finds a way. And I don't think that's something you can measure, except in wins."
Indeed, one can quantify Garcia's greatness by numbers, which include more than 8,000 career passing yards and nearly as many scholarship offers. By the force of his will, not to mention 100-plus rushing yards, he nearly helped topple the Hawk dynasty Friday.
For guys like Hickman, it's not that easy.
With no significant stats to tell the story, you must peel back some tissue and put it under the metaphorical microscope that is a raucous playoff audience of a few thousand.
Friday night, the crowd at Dr. Sam Horton Stadium discovered Hickman's DNA is not only viable, but valiant.
"I don't like the blowout games," he said. "I don't like when we're up 30-something to nothing. I like when we're down by points, just like we were, on one drive put in my hands to win. That's the type of stuff I live for every day."
Maybe that's bravado. Believe it anyway. Hickman has earned that trust.
After all, he put the Hawks on his shoulders, even when one seemed popped out of place.
"I mean, he's as gutsy as they come," Callahan said. "And he made plays."