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Crazy Article On Hakeem Nicks


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You want to know more about Hakeem Nicks. You know he's young and fast and has hands the size of oven mitts, but you want to find out who he is and where he comes from. You want to know how a 22-year-old kid who wasn't even on the major-college radar before his senior year in high school could so swiftly emerge as one of the Giants' most feared offensive players - and among the most gifted young receivers in the league.


Even more, you want to know how a young man whose family life has consisted of prison and pain and all manner of deprivation and instability could shake free of that as if it were no more involved than separating from a defensive back.


"He took another path, and that's the thing that really impressed me about him," says Charlie Williams, Nicks' receivers coach at North Carolina. "It's amazing how he handled things."


Tommy Knotts is a renowned prep coach in the Carolinas, an old-school sort who prizes attitude and discipline above all else, and first discovered Nicks' talent at Independence High School in Charlotte.


Says Knotts, "I don't remember ever having to get on him, not even one time. He was just a coachable, hard-working kid who was one of the all-time fun guys to coach. We all knew the situation at home was rough, and that's what makes it so gratifying to see what he's doing now."


At his locker, Hakeem Nicks changes out of his practice gear with a photo of his two-year-old daughter, Harmony, holding a flower in a print dress, over his right shoulder. On a hook beneath Harmony's photo is a towel with Nicks' number 88, and the word "Dreams." The 6-1, 215-pound Nicks has a chiseled physique and Harmony's name tattooed across his chest. He's happy to talk about tonight's game with the Eagles, about being tied for the league lead in receiving touchdowns (9), and what he expects to change with fellow receiver Steve Smith out with an injury.


He's less enthused about discussing the particulars of the family trouble that has surrounded him for virtually his entire life, says it's something he prefers not to dwell on right now. You understand that, but still . . .


You ask him how he's been able to avoid the drugs and violence and missteps, how he managed to become the first person in his family ever to graduate from high school, never mind a burgeoning football star.


Hakeem Nicks shrugs.


"I think it was something that was put in me," Nicks says. "You have to look at like a gift from God. I've always wanted to make it - to do something with my life. I always had a dream of being a pro football player."




Years before the Giants took him as the 29th pick (and the fifth receiver) in the 2009 NFL draft, Hakeem Nicks had a hard time getting off of Tommy Knotts' bench. The problem was that the receiver ahead of him was Mohamed Massaquoi, who would go on to the University of Georgia and the Cleveland Browns. Knotts remembers that Nicks' father initially wanted his son to be a quarterback. The coach gave him a look. The kid put his thumb at the end of the ball.


"I'm telling you, he threw some passes that were butt ugly," Knotts says. The other vivid memory Knotts has of Nicks is that he called him by the wrong name – Hassan – for two full years.


"He finally came up to me one day with this little smile on his face and said, 'Coach, my name is Hakeem,'" Knotts says.


The coach took note of the name, and of Nicks' speed and strength, and also saw how hard the kid worked in the weight room and how well he blocked and how much he wanted to be a player.


By Nicks' junior year, Knotts had a sense of what he had – and what the kid was dealing with at home. Nicks said little and complained even less, but the coach knew.


"You could just see some days it was weighing on him," Knotts says.


Nicks' childhood had all the predictability of a squib kick. He spent much of his early life living with a grandmother in Harrisburg, Pa. He also lived with his mother, an aunt and even spent a short time in a homeless shelter. Around the age of 9 he moved in with his father in a crime-infested neighborhood in Charlotte, where his older brothers, Robert Nicks III and Aleef Jamar Nicks, were no strangers to authorities in Mecklenburg County, both of them getting convicted and doing federal time on drugs and weapons charges, dating back almost a decade.


Hakeem's father, Robert Nicks Jr., has a long history of lesser offenses himself, including three DWI convictions and two possession-of-marijuana convictions, along with a multitude of traffic violations and civil judgments that resulted in repeated evictions, court records show. A close follower of Hakeem's high school career said his father had a serious alcohol problem "and would often show up at games drunk and shout stupid things."


Robert Anwar Nicks III remains in prison, with five more years to serve at the federal penitentiary in Coleman, Fla. According to court records, Nicks III shot and killed a man who had abducted his mother at gunpoint in Charlotte, and though the Mecklenburg County district attorney didn't prosecute the case, federal authorities charged him as a felon in possession of a firearm. Nicks III fled to Pennsylvania, where he pled guilty to two counts of attempted carjacking and gun charges, court records say. In an attempt to conceal his identity, according to multiple published reports, Nicks III tried to chew off the skin of his fingertips. It didn't work.


Aleef Jamar Nicks, who was released from federal prison last year, will be in court in January to face four new misdemeanor charges – including assault on a woman and assault with a deadly weapon – stemming from an incident in July, according to Christa Sumwalt, assistant district attorney in Mecklenburg County.


All of this has been swirling around Hakeem Nicks for most of his life. He talks to his brothers regularly and says he has learned from their mistakes. He politely declines to go into any more detail, though he did comment several years ago, in an interview for the UNC athletic website.


"My brothers are good-hearted people," Nicks said. ". . . They didn't always make the right decisions. And I knew I couldn't let anyone else affect me. If the guys in your crowd are doing the wrong thing, you treat them with respect, but you have to move on."


* * *


Former UNC coach John Bunting, who recruited Nicks to Chapel Hill, offered him a scholarship without seeing so much as 10 seconds of film on the kid. He did it on Knotts' say-so. "He's going to be as good or better than Massaquoi; I just can't prove it to you right now," Knotts told him.


Knotts was not wrong, and the proof isn't just in the UNC record book, it's all over YouTube, where you click here and see Nicks doing his best David Tyree impersonation, clamping a ball against his helmet, one-handed, for a touchdown, and click there and see him making a breathtaking catch over the middle and hauling about 700 pounds of defenders into the end zone.


Nicks' most stunning highlight, though, is probably the one from the Meinecke Car Care Bowl in 2008. Running a short crossing pattern, Nicks reaches back to grab a poorly thrown ball in his left hand, then whisks the ball behind his back, into his right hand, and keeps running, slamming into a few people and getting a first down, even as a Tech defender puts both hands on his helmet in disbelief.


"That's my favorite," Nicks says. "I just tried to hold on. That's my whole mentality - it's me and the ball, and I want to catch it any way possible."


Nicks is not in Chapel Hill anymore, though his name came up earlier this month in connection with the NCAA's ongoing investigation of the Tar Heels' football program (Nicks gave $3,300 in "impermissible assistance" to friends in the program; a UNC probe said there was nothing to link Nicks to any gift-giving agents or runners). He does his pass-catching for the Giants now, and with 56 catches and the nine TDs, and stunning ability to make the difficult catch and run away after he does, he is becoming a favorite target of Eli Manning.


"There's no doubt he's got a lot of ability," Manning says. "You can throw him the ball even when he's not officially open. And he's always working hard to get better."


Sean Ryan is the Giants' receivers coach. He, too, is taken with Nicks' physical gifts, but says his greatest asset may be his appetite for work, and his ambition.


"He's got that inner drive that the best guys have," Ryan says. "If he continues to commit himself to fixing his mistakes and improving, I think he can be mentioned with the top receivers in the league."


Hakeem Nicks has to run off to a meeting. He finishes getting dressed, and gets ready to leave the locker with Harmony's picture and his 'Dreams' towel, to live another day on an altogether different path than the people he loves. No matter what happens on the field against the Eagles tonight, or the rest of the season, Hakeem Nicks' greatest route, it seems, won't be a curl or a post pattern, or a fade in the end zone, but the one he's running in his life.


"I'm living my dream," Hakeem Nicks says. "I'm playing the game I love."











crazy his brother is in jail for killing a guy who was trying to kidnap his mom at gunpoint. and he tried to chew his fingerprints off.

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