The McNeese State offense has not gotten fully going in the first two weeks of the regular season.
Some of that can be contributed to the competition. The Cowboys' nonconference schedule has three Division I schools (two Football Championship Subdivision, one Football Bowl Subdivision) and all of the teams are at the least comparable to the team that McNeese has. Most schools in the Southland Conference have at least one sub-Division I (Division II, III, or NAIA) team on its schedule.
But as the Cowboys get set to play the defending Southwestern Athletic Conference champion Alcorn State on Saturday, a potential game-breaking weapon is emerging on the offensive side of the ball in sophomore running back D'Andre Hicks. The sophomore from Punta Gorda, Florida, who transferred to McNeese from Appalachian State in the offseason, has shown flashes that he can be an all-around weapon who head coach Sterlin Gilbert can utilize.
"D'Andre is a guy that's dynamic when the ball in his hands," Gilbert said. "Excited about him, just his continued development as we go on and what he can handle and what his job is on Saturdays. Excited about the things he's been able to put on the field and do the last two weeks. Just excited about him going forward, continuing to get comfortable in the offense.
Through the season's first two games, Hicks is fourth on the team with 41 yards rushing, and second five receptions for 86 yards. In the fourth quarter of McNeese's 56-14 loss to Oklahoma State, Hicks scored the team's lone offensive touchdown on a 16-yard reception from quarterback Cody Orgeron.
In fact, there's a decent chance that if Hicks gets the ball in his hands, something productive will happen. Of his 14 touches (nine carries and five receptions), five of them have either gone for a first down or touchdown.
After Tuesday's practice, Hicks said he has adjusted to being at McNeese and playing for the Cowboys, adding that he likes his role and is looking forward to whatever comes up.
"Getting more playing time is fun," Hicks said. "Just doing what coaches ask me to do. We're out here working hard; we're trying to just execute the scheme and make plays."
In a sense, Hicks is also a trend-breaker in the McNeese offense. In the first two games, the offense's tendency was to run the ball between the tackles while most of the passes were outside the hash marks, either horizontally on screen passes and hitches or vertically with go and wheel routes.
The few times that the offense has gone away from normal tendencies, it's been Hicks who's gotten the ball. Against Southern University, for instance, Hicks motioned out to wide receiver and ran a route in which he faked cutting outside before going back to the middle of the field. He caught the pass and took it 12 yards for a first down. The touchdown catch against OSU? Hicks ran out of the backfield and down the middle of the field before making the catch for the score.
Early in the game, Hicks took a designed outside run for a 2-yard gain. Although the play didn't net much, it strayed from the usual inside-the-tackles run plays they normally go with.
Four McNeese players have at least 17 carries, and Hicks is not one of them. But his ability to run routes and catch the ball out of the backfield — as well as his speed — could make him even more of a threat.
In the meantime, Hicks said he wants to do whatever he can to help the team succeed.
"Football is football," Hicks said. "I'm just trying to have fun and win games."