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Paetow 5-star senior defensive end David "DJ" Hicks Jr., middle, smiles as his parents look on Wednesday after Hicks verbally committed to play for Texas A&M. Hicks is the No. 9 overall recruit in the country and No. 1 player in Texas.
KATY—The maroon Texas A&M football helmet David “DJ” Hicks Jr. placed on the table in front of him in the Paetow High cafeteria Wednesday after verbally commiting to the Aggies live on ESPN has been in his room since 2011, when his father won it at a raffle and gave it to his son.
Hicks’ first big-time offer was from Texas A&M. The first big-time camp he attended in eighth grade was Texas A&M’s.
So, while Oklahoma was thought by several recruiting sites to be the heavy favorite to land Paetow’s 6-foot-4, 270-pound five-star defensive end, perhaps the Aggies were simply fate.
“I’m really at a loss for words, pretty much,” said Hicks, the country’s No. 9 overall prospect and the No. 1 player in Texas for the class of 2023. “It was (A&M assistant head coach/defensive line coach) Coach (Elijah) Robertson and everybody else there and how close it is to home.
“I’m excited, and now I can focus on my senior year. I want to go to state and then go to A&M and do the best I can to the best of my ability.”
\u201c.@PaetowFootball 5-star DE @DJ2g23 talks about picking @AggieFootball. #txhsfb @KPRC2RandyMc @KatyISDAthletic @PaetowSportsMed @PaetowHS @TexAgs @katyisd\u201d — VYPE Houston (@VYPE Houston)
Hicks chose A&M over the Sooners, Michigan State, Oregon, Miami, Alabama and Texas. As a child, his dream school was Texas. But once the recruiting process started in the eighth grade, it was all A&M.
“It’s the Aggie network,” said his father David Sr., an assistant coach at Paetow and former linebacker standout at Grambling State who played a year with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. “It does a great job of prepping him. It started at his old school (Morton Ranch High). The principal there, Ms. (Julie) Hinson, is an Aggie. Coming here, (Paetow principal) Ms. (Mindy) Dickerson is also an Aggie. (A&M) do a great job with the network and surround that program with great people, like Coach Robertson and (A&M defensive ends coach) Coach (Terry) Price. Having that stability and building that relationship over time helped him grow into wanting to be an Aggie.”
David Sr. said he and his son started seriously training and working out when DJ was in the sixth grade. Initially, DJ was undersized for his age. But as he hit a growth spurt, the Hickses started attending camps, camp tours and more camps.
“He caught COVID (in 2020), went into his two-week quarantine and came out of it 25 pounds bigger,” David Sr. said, laughing. “I don’t know how. COVID weight, I guess. He played the next season 40 pounds bigger.”
Hicks—who played his first two years of high school at Morton Ranch, played his junior season at Allen and then returned home to finish his career as a Panther—will be joining teammate and Paetow four-star linebacker Daymion Sanford at A&M.
Sanford, who said Hicks is “very smart and very physical,” said he didn’t try to influence his teammate’s decision in any way.
“He told me he’s been going up there since he was in eighth grade,” Sanford said. “That alone says it all.”
\u201c.@PaetowFootball 5-star DE @DJ2g23 picks @AggieFootball. #txhsfb @KPRC2RandyMc @KatyISDAthletic @PaetowSportsMed @PaetowHS\u201d — VYPE Houston (@VYPE Houston)
While Hicks has the physical tools for stardom, coaches and teammates said it’s the intangibles that separate him.
“The first impression was the first day he got here,” Paetow head coach Lonnie Teagle said. “He came in with all the stars and all that and he came in humbly. He fit right in and started working. There’s some guys who carry an aura and are big-headed, and he just fit in. He’s one of the most humble stars I’ve been around.
“He’s not satisfied with just being talented. He wants to maximize it and is always working. He’s always the last one off the field after practice and always doing the extra. That’s what makes him elite.”
“It’s the way he works,” David Sr. said. “When you have talent and you work like you don’t have talent, that’s when you really get it. I’ve never seen anyone outwork him. He’s always on time. He’s never made a ‘C.’ He’s humble. He never has an attitude. He’s like the dream kid.”
Paetow 5-star senior defensive end David "DJ" Hicks Jr., middle, smiles as his parents look on Wednesday after Hicks verbally committed to play for Texas A&M.Dennis Silva II | VYPE Media
Hicks said after the first game of his sophomore season at Morton Ranch, when he received his first collegiate offer from SMU, he knew was going to play college football somewhere.
“It’s been crazy, especially starting so young when I was in the eighth grade to now,” he said. “I’m glad I finally found home.”
First-year head coach Lonnie Teagle, middle, is pictured with some of his Paetow Panthers.
KATY—Paetow’s encore to its 2021 state championship season began much like many probably expected it to on Friday night.
That Panthers defense, full of elite Power 5 talents, including the No. 1 player in the state? Incredible. As advertised, if not better.
The offense, full of question marks and uncertainty? Very much T.B.D.
Paetow’s defense won the Panthers their season-opener against Conroe at Legacy Stadium, 14-3. Both offensive touchdowns were scored by defensive players.
Paetow, making the move from Class 5A-Division I to Class 6A, registered nine sacks—seven in the first half—for minus-48 Conroe yards.
\u201c.@PaetowFootball 1-0. #txhsfb\u201d — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
Senior linebacker Alex Kilgore, a SMU commit, scored Paetow’s first touchdown on a 2-yard burst less than three minutes into the second quarter for the game’s first points. The Panthers didn’t reach the end zone again until senior defensive end D.J. Hicks Jr., a five-star recruit and the No. 1 player in Texas for the Class of 2023, hauled in a six-yard toss from senior quarterback Koby Truehill almost midway through the fourth quarter.
It was the first win as a head coach for Lonnie Teagle, previously the offensive coordinator at Denton Ryan who took over after B.J. Gotte left for Pearland High in the spring.
“It’s been kind of crazy,” said Teagle, a Missouri City native. “Everything’s kind of been a whirlwind. But I’m soaking it in. I’ve learned over my career that you have to enjoy them all. It wasn’t pretty. I wish things could have been better in some areas but it’s all good.”
On the game’s first play from scrimmage, Paetow senior linebacker Daymion Sanford, a Texas A&M commit, sacked quarterback Javarious Hatchett for a seven-yard loss.
\u201cThat didn\u2019t take long for the vaunted @PaetowFootball defense. First play from scrimmage is a @Daymionsanford sack for a loss of seven yards. #txhsfb @PaetowHS @PaetowAthletics\u201d — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
It only got worse from there for Conroe.
Paetow had six more sacks in the first half. Hicks had two, junior defensive lineman Loghan Thomas—a four-star recruit—had two, and senior defensive linemen Rodney McDonald and Jarra Anderson each had one.
“We blitzed a little. We played coverage a little. We did a lot,” Kilgore said. “Our D-line got after it. I love seeing them eat. The ’backers, we still have a lot to work on, but we still did good. DBs (defensive backs) covered when they needed to cover. Everybody just did their job.”
Kilgore and Hicks excelled on both sides of the ball.
Used situationally as a power back, Kilgore scored his first career offensive touchdown and was beyond exuberant on the sidelines in celebration.
“I was pumped,” said Kilgore, who had 65 yards on eight carries. “I think you could see it. Hopefully the coaches will use me a little more there (on offense).”
\u201c.@PaetowFootball is on the board. @alex_kilgore46 shows he\u2019s got a flare for the end zone too. 2-yard burst. He is PUMPED. 7-0 Panthers, 9:34, 2Q. #txhsfb @PaetowHS @PaetowAthletics\u201d — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
Hicks, who is not foreign to playing both ways, took in a nice toss from Truehill with a little more than seven minutes in the game.
“I know I can do it, and whatever I need to do to help the team, I’m going to do it,” Hicks said. “If it means scoring a touchdown, I’ll go do it.”
In all, Paetow held Conroe to 211 total yards, 223 passing. The Tigers had minus-12 rushing yards on 27 carries as Hicks and senior defensive lineman Stephen Green added to the sack total in the second half.
“We have so many good players that nobody can get double-teamed,” said Hicks, who had three sacks and a fumble recovery. “Double team me, and somebody else will make a play. Double team somebody else, and I’ll make the play. I’m freed up a lot more. It’s really a T.O.E. (Team Over Everything) thing. We really have a bond. We’re really all brothers out there.”
\u201c.@PaetowFootball 2023 DE @DJ2g23 talks about the Panthers\u2019 14-3 win tonight over Conroe. Hicks, the #1 ranked player in 2023 in the state, had three sacks with a fumble recovery and a receiving TD in the win. #txhsfb @KatyISDAthletic @KPRC2RandyMc @PaetowHS_ABC @PaetowSportsMed\u201d — VYPE Houston (@VYPE Houston)
As dominant as the defense was, the Paetow offense was another story.
The Panthers struggled to generate any rhythm moving the chains. Truehill started the game, threw interceptions on Paetow’s first two drives, and then rotated with sophomore backup Brock Nichols the rest of the way.
Truehill completed five of 11 passes for 48 yards and a touchdown to two interceptions and rushed for 29 yards on three carries. Nichols completed two of four passes for one yard.
The Panthers punted three times and turned it over on downs twice.
“We didn’t have real good field position tonight,” Teagle said. “We made some mistakes offensively and took some chances in the kicking game, but we have a lot of faith in our defense. They held up. I was very proud of the way the defense responded.”
\u201cGeez! My goodness. This @DJ2g23 sack \ud83d\udc40\ud83d\ude24\ud83d\ude33 #txhsfb @PaetowFootball @PaetowAthletics @PaetowHS @KatyISDAthletic @texashsfootball @KPRC2RandyMc\u201d — Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II)
Offensively, Paetow is different than in past years under Gotte. The Panthers are running a lot more spread and not as much under center.
Teagle said using Kilgore, Hicks and even Thomas on offense was out of necessity.
“We’re still trying to figure some things out on offense,” Teagle said. “The offense is always a little behind (at the start of a season). We’re coming in with new systems and it’s a new transition and we’re trying to work things out. Our guys were resilient and played hard. The offensive line played great, and we’re going to continue to lean on them.”
Paetow’s battle cry this season is “Something2Prove.”
The Panthers heard whispers all offseason about how they would find things considerably tougher in their new classification 6A, particularly in their new 19-6A district that features state power Katy and regional power Tompkins.
“We knew how everybody felt about us winning the 5A state championship, so the motivation has been to prove it,” Kilgore said. “Prove why we won. Prove why we deserve to be where we are. Prove why our defense is good.”
The challenge has been accepted. Friday night was step one. Even despite the myriad of offensive issues, a win is all that matters, Teagle said.
“I challenged myself, I challenged my coaching staff, and I challenged our kids to keep the championship culture that was developed here going,” Teagle said. “It’s still a very young school and we’re still building tradition. It’s our job to protect that.”