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Former NFL First Round Pick Hungry For More Football

The XFL has added another anecdote illustrating how a professional spring football league can fill a needed void to provide young (and not-so-young) talent a chance to show what they can do on the gridiron.

Route running drills at the XFL “Summer Showcase” at Montclair State University campus on June 14, 2019

Five years before Odell Beckham’s arrival to the NFL, Hakeem Nicks was the 29th player selected by the New York Giants in the 2009 draft to replace the troubled Plaxico Burress.

He’s received inspiration from his peers while showcasing his talent for the new 2020 league:

“All my friends are in my corner still, pushing me to play. They know I love the game of football. It is what it is.”

The highly touted wide receiver from North Carolina was a top target for Eli Manning. Hicks put up some spectacular numbers, including franchise records in the playoffs.

His Hail-Mary touchdown catch just before halftime of a playoff game against the 15-1 Packers was reminiscent of the David Tyree Super Bowl reception.

Nicks’ contribution of 10 catches for 109 yards resulted in a Giants Super Bowl 46 victory over New England.

He suffered a fractured right foot during spring drills in 2012 that required surgery. Playing through pain, he injured his left knee in week 2. Under restricted practices and favoring two injuries, he could not return to his former level of productivity. He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery after the season.

In a good but not great 2013 season for the Giants, Nicks hauled 896 catches in 15 games, but without any touchdowns. The need for reliably healthy players made Nicks expendable. After exhausting all trade attempts at season’s end, New York allowed his contract to expire, and he became a free agent.

Nicks was unable to find a niche with a new team, lasting only one season with the Colts in 2014 and getting released by the Titans September 5, 2015, failing to make the final 53 man roster.

In need of a receiver after placing Victor Cruz on injured reserve, he returned to East Rutherford in November 2015. “That competitive drive in me, I just had to stay in it,” said Nicks, crediting Manning with providing valuable support.

He completed the remainder of the season, playing in six games with 7 catches for 54 yards. Convinced his best days were behind him, the Giants did not resign him.

Unimpressed with his 2016 training camp performance, the New Orleans Saints released Nicks only 11 days after signing him to a non-guaranteed one year deal. A tryout with the Bengals on April 15, 2016 didn’t result in a contract. He’s been out of football since.

Hakeem Nicks at Saints training camp in 2016

A resurrected XFL now provides a new platform for players like Nicks to prove they still have what it takes. His passion for football has never waned, continuing his motto “Football is life“.

Praise from a two time Super Bowl MVP doesn’t exactly hurt one’s confidence either:

“Eli was like, ‘Man, you’ve still got a step. Why don’t you see if you can still give it a shot? You’re still young enough.”

Manning, Nicks and several current Giants wide receivers have been working out with Manning’s long term trainer to improve and sharpen their skills. The XFL showcase in New Jersey was also attended by Giants former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, now the head coach of the New York XFL franchise. Nicks expressed confidence and excitement with the prospect of joining the XFL, encouraged by Manning’s favorable critique of his abilites to play at a high level:

“I just want one last year to go at it and play before I get in my late 30s,” said Nicks. “I just want one last season, whether it be the NFL or the XFL. I’m not closing any doors. I just want one last year to play ball. This was the opportunity, so I came and showed out.”

At 31, this may be his last opportunity. He’s making the most of it.

Pass catching drills at the XFL “Summer Showcase” at Montclair State University campus on June 14, 2019

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