Texan Helped to Stampede This Longhorn


He's 6 feet tall, claims 220 pounds but probably weighs a couple more, has 4.49-second speed in the 40-yard dash, broke a long touchdown run in his first game as a freshman, rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, hails from San Diego, thought hard about going to UCLA and drives a sports utility vehicle, which is the transportation choice of Collegiate California.

Ricky Williams is the linchpin of the Texas offense.

He's 6 feet tall, claims 230 pounds but probably weighs a couple less, has 4.43-second speed in the 40-yard dash, broke a long touchdown run in his first game as a freshman, rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, hails from Wichita Falls, Texas, thought hard about going to Texas and drives a pickup truck, which is the transportation choice of Texans of all ages.

Skip Hicks is the linchpin of the UCLA offense.

Williams and Hicks won't bring a mirror to Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas, on Saturday afternoon. They won't need to.

"They're both very similar in the fact that they can carry the ball a number of times, they can be excellent receivers," Texas Coach John Mackovic says. "They're powerful runners. I think Hicks is a little bigger."

Says UCLA Coach Bob Toledo: "Both have the same kind of size. Both have the same kind of speed. Both catch the ball fairly well. They're very similar backs."

Both are where they are because of a desire to see greener pastures, and while grazing in their new environments both have learned to adapt.

"It's a lot different [in Texas]," Williams says. "You take your hat off in a building. You learn to say 'yes, sir' and 'no, sir,' and I wasn't used to that. And I was late to meetings [at first] because I'm kind of on California time and they're much more punctual."

When Hicks came to California, questions were answered "yes, sir" and "no, sir," but he has adapted. He is known to be late for an occasional interview and when last seen in UCLA's Morgan Center, he was wearing a baseball cap.

That Hicks is around Morgan Center at all is a large part of the reason Williams takes his calls at the Neuhaus-Royal Complex, just off the south end zone of Memorial Stadium in Austin.

Hicks is two years older, and when he got to UCLA in 1993, scoring on a 40-yard touchdown run on his second carry against California in his first game, Williams was a junior at Patrick Henry High in San Diego.

That summer, he was in Westwood.

"I grew up and kind of liked UCLA the most," Williams says. "I went to four or five games at the Rose Bowl and to a [summer] camp with [former] Coach Terry Donahue. I talked with Coach Donahue a lot."

When Hicks was a sophomore, recovering from a knee injury, it was apparent he was still going to be a large part of UCLA's football future.

It was a future that, Williams figured, probably wouldn't include him. He talks of several reasons for being in Austin. But, upon prodding, Williams concedes why he isn't a Bruin.

Williams met Hicks, sized him up and figured the Rose Bowl wasn't big enough for both of them.

"I wanted to go somewhere and play right away and I saw he was there," he says. "I just wanted to play."

He did, right away, for Texas, scoring a 65-yard touchdown at Hawaii on his eighth collegiate carry.

The years have passed, Williams blending a professional baseball career in the Philadelphia Phillie minor league system with football, finding much more success in Austin. He has had batting averages of .239, .188 and .206 in three seasons and is putting off choosing between sports as long as he can.

The choice is probably being made for him. He was hitting about .300 in July in Kannapolis, N.C., when the first football preseason magazine came out. He saw himself on some of their covers, went into a one-for-47 slump and headed for Texas.

There he has had seasons of 990 and 1,272 rushing yards, 1,214 and 1,563 total yards, and has scored 20 touchdowns.

In three baseball seasons, he has hit only four home runs.

And he has earned all of his $50,000 baseball signing bonus, which was spread over three years. The NFL can offer a lot more to a 220-pound college running back than baseball can to a .220 minor league hitter.

"I think Philadelphia is going to wait until I get about 1,000 at-bats to make a determination on me," he says.

There's a good chance he won't get to 1,000. There will be pressure to go to the NFL after this season, though other forces might keep him in college one more year.

"I've looked at the schedule and see we play [UCLA] out there next season," Williams says.

After his first season, in which he rushed for 563 yards, Hicks finally had the break-out year so long anticipated, rushing for 1,034 yards and piling up 1,317 total yards in 1996.

Williams looks forward to Saturday for several reasons, mostly that television will beam the game to San Diego. He has moved his family to Austin, where two sisters attend Texas on his baseball bonus money.

But his ties are still in Southern California.

And he thinks about Hicks. It's not cool to acknowledge a rival, but Williams concedes, "I understand he caught seven passes last week."

Hicks looks forward to Saturday's game for several reasons, mostly because his family and friends have a short trip from Wichita Falls to Austin. He has talked teammates out of about 20 tickets--players get two tickets for each game--and is looking for 29 more.

"It means a lot to come back," he says. "Finally, I get to come home and play in front of all the people who have watched me on TV and supported me through everything. It's pretty special. It's an incentive to be at my best and show my best in front of them."

And of Williams?

"I'm not going to get to play against him, because I'm on offense and so is he, but you have to wonder who is going to be the best back out of that game," Hicks says. "Am I going to run for 200 yards, is he going to run for 200? We're both going to do something, and a lot of people probably have been anticipating it because of that factor."

Mr. Hicks, meet Mr. Williams. No. 42, from Texas in UCLA white and gold, meet No. 11, from California in Texas burnt orange.

Look in the mirror.

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