Mylan Hicks high-fives with a youngster during the 'Meet the Spartans' event in East Lansing last week. (Dale G. Young)
East Lansing — For the bulk of his first four years at Michigan State, Mylan Hicks was a guy that wasn’t getting noticed.
Unless, of course, that is for being injured and never really living up to the promise he had when he arrived on campus as a highly recruited defensive back from Detroit Renaissance in the fall of 2010.
But that is finally changing for Hicks. In the midst of his last preseason camp at Michigan State, he is getting noticed.
“There’s always somebody in camp that catches your eye,” coach Mark Dantonio said last week. “That is a guy that I think is gonna have a presence … a situational guy.”
It’s not as a defensive back — Hicks made the move from safety to outside linebacker midway through last season — but that hardly matters at this point. Playing is playing, and it seems more and more likely that Hicks will do just that in passing situations at the “Star” position.
It is a role Jairus Jones excelled at last season before a knee injury sidelined him for most of the year. He was a former safety who made the transition and was impressive in the first few weeks before getting hurt at Notre Dame.
Hicks, who said he still talks with Jones, hopes to have the same type of impact on the defense this season.
“I’ve had the mindset to go hard and do whatever it takes for the team and its national championship run this year,” Hicks said. “I’ve known the defense for a while so it’s just adjusting roles. But I’ve got a good understanding of the defense so the transition to linebacker hasn’t been hard.”
It’s a transition that seemed like a longshot for Hicks. Unable to crack the two-deep at cornerback, he moved to safety in 2012. And when the injury hit Jones early last season, the move to linebacker was made.
But through it all, Hicks said he never wavered in his quest to get on the field.
“I just had to stay dedicated,” he said. “I still have a dream of playing in the (NFL) and that basically pushes me and motivates me and keeps me grinding. I knew one day I would get a chance and I’d have to go hard when I got it.”
Hicks’ emergence is just one storyline of an ever-evolving linebacker battle for the Spartans. With two scrimmages in the books and the season-opener against Jacksonville State less than two weeks away, things are only slightly coming into focus.
Junior Darien Harris appears to be locking up the No. 1 spot at “Star” while junior Ed Davis is the starter on the strong side, or “Money” linebacker. However, sophomore Riley Bullough is pushing for playing time at both positions and freshman Chris Frey has had a solid camp.
The middle is even more up for grabs between senior Taiwan Jones and redshirt freshman Jon Reschke. If Reschke wins the battle, Jones could move back to the outside where he started the last two seasons.
According to the coaches, Jones is doing fine but it hardly sounds like he is putting a stranglehold on the spot.
“The biggest thing is, is he getting people lined up in there, is he taking control of the defense and then is he playing fast after that?” Dantonio said. “Is he getting off the ball? I think he’s made great strides from the spring and even from the first scrimmage to the second scrimmage you’ve seen a definite improvement.”
But will it be enough? There’s little doubt Jones will play, but at what position. At the same time, Reschke is proving he will get his shot, as well.
“He will play in a game,” Dantonio said of Reschke. “Beyond that, it depends on how he plays in the game. Does he become a one or does he stay a two right now? But he is going to get reps in the game, that’s established. He is good enough to do that and he is functional and makes plays and you notice him.”
At 6-foot-2 and 236 pounds, Reschke doesn’t have the size of Jones (6-3, 250), but he believes he has the understanding of the position.
“We play differently,” Reschke said. “He’s a big, powerful guy, can run through guys. I’m quick, make quick reads and go downhill fast. It’s a new position for him and I’ve played middle linebacker my whole life.”
Which style will win out remains to be seen as the entire linebacker corps continues to be a work in progress. Dantonio has stopped short of fully endorsing Jones as the middle linebacker many times while continuing to praise Reschke.
However it shakes out, he feels it will all be settled once the season finally kicks off.
“It’s been a good camp, solid camp,” he said. “You never know until you get to game time. I really feel like that because you’re gonna hit adversity and you’ve gotta be able to handle it.”