TERRE HAUTE —
Indiana State football alum Chris “Big C” Hicks will turn 58 Saturday and he knows exactly what he wants for his birthday.
A homecoming victory for the FCS No. 21-ranked Sycamores over Western Illinois at Memorial Stadium.
Hicks and several other ISU football greats from the past have noticed the program’s upswing in recent years and they would love to see it continue. Hicks and Vincent Allen, both members of the ISU Athletic Hall of Fame, will arrive in Terre Haute today and watch the game together Saturday.
“I am ecstatic,” emphasized Hicks, who lives in Wildwood, Mo., and works as a regional environmental, health and safety manager for Elementis Worldwide Corp.
“What I see different from past years is they’re actually playing as a team, playing with discipline, playing with tenacity. They have an increased passion for winning … and their offense has improved tremendously, which in turn helps the defense.”
The 6-foot-5, 285-pound Hicks, who looks like he could still throw a mean block, knows a little about effective offenses. He played tackle and guard for the Sycamores from 1972 through 1975. A 1976 graduate, he was named an American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) first-team All-American in 1975.
Allen, ISU’s all-time leading rusher with 4,335 yards and another 1975 AFCA first-team All-American, remembers current head coach Trent Miles serving as a ball boy for the Sycamores when he played. So Allen is proud of the job Miles has done since he was hired to guide the Sycamores in 2008.
“Congratulations to coach Miles and everybody involved with the program,” said the 56-year-old Allen, who runs the water-processing system for the Johns Manville Corp. plant in Richmond. “What I love about Trent is he’s made it a family atmosphere. He’s made all the former players feel welcome when we come to visit.”
Allen recalls speaking to the team soon after Miles became coach and the team was still struggling to find success. The Sycamores finished 0-12 in 2008 and 1-10 in 2009.
Now that some of those young players are juniors and seniors, ISU is 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2011.
“I told those kids not to give up,” Allen reminisced. “‘If you work hard, good things are going to happen.’ I really meant that.”
Allen said he goes to about one or two ISU games a year, about the same as another ISU Hall of Famer — Vencie Glenn.
Few players in ISU history can provide a résumé close to as impressive as Glenn’s. He is the university’s career leader in interceptions with 17, having played from 1982 through 1985. He was a 1985 first-team AFCA/Kodak All-American for what was known then as NCAA Division I-AA. That same year, he was named the Missouri Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year.
A second-round draft pick by the New England Patriots in 1986, he played in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints, Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants before he retired in 1995.
Now 46 and working as a television/radio analyst and public speaker in San Diego, Glenn said he keeps in regular contact with Miles about the ISU program, although a prior commitment prevents him from attending Saturday’s homecoming contest.
“From the beginning, I knew Trent was the right person for the job,” Glenn insisted. “I think he has the guys playing football the right way and more importantly he’s got them doing the right things off the field.”
Glenn thinks the Sycamores can win seven or eight games this season, but more importantly he believes they can “keep building the program.”
Another former ISU standout who’s been watching the Sycamores’ rise to prominence from afar is 52-year-old Craig Shaffer. A1977 Terre Haute Schulte High School graduate, he went on to earn MVC Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1981. Drafted in the sixth round by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1982, he played linebacker in the NFL and Canadian Football League for several years.
“It’s great to hear they’ve turned things around,” said Shaffer, who currently lives near St. Louis and owns his own semi-truck. “I think coach Miles and his staff have done a great job there and I think it will continue.”
Saturday’s weather forecast calls for sunny skies, a high temperature of 68 degrees and a zero-percent chance of precipitation, so this could be shaping up as a homecoming weekend to remember for ISU alums everywhere.
David Hughes, who owns a bachelor’s degree in journalism (1982) and master’s degree in criminology (1987) from ISU, can be reached after 4 p.m. by phone at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by e-mail at email@example.com; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.