East Carter quarterback Braden Hicks passes during practice last week. (Photo by Kevin Goldy)

GRAYSON – You never know when your number might be called. For East Carter quarterback Braden Hicks, it happened earlier than expected.

He chose to embrace his opportunity.

With three games remaining in his freshman season, Hicks answered that call from head coach Tim Champlin after starting QB Taylor Hickle broke his wrist against Ashland at Putnam Stadium.

Not only was he seeing his first varsity action before he could drive, he was playing at one of the most historic and intimidating venues in the area. After a few unsettling moments, Hicks knew this is where he wanted to be.

“It’s nerve-racking, but as a freshman you get to prove what you can do,” Hicks said. “Prove to the coaches and prove to the fans and your teammates. I was nervous at first in that moment. I was shaking and had butterflies, but once you get playing and get settled in there is no better feeling than playing under the Friday night lights. I love playing with my brothers and playing with the people that mean the most to you.”

Hicks can still recall Champlin’s final message before heading onto the field to take his first snap.

“He said, ‘Be nervous, but don’t be afraid,’” Hicks said. “We didn’t throw the ball a lot (at that time), but I was still a freshman. Be a leader and don’t be afraid to take control. You need to show everybody that it is your offense and you can control what is happening. He said to just go play.”

Hicks did just that and eventually led his team to an 28-20 defeat of Fleming County, No. 10 in Class 3A, to end the 2016 campaign.

Former running back Josh Ford tallied three touchdowns that night, but the young signal-caller had to tackle a new challenge that week as the Raiders’ coaching staff decided to change the offensive game plan.

“He may have not thrown very many balls that night, but he had to take the snap and get the ball to the right guy,” Champlin said. “Call the right play in the huddle. We switched our offense that week. We went away from everything he had been used to doing that season. He took it and ran with it. The kids rallied around him and believed in him. He has done a great job for us. It was an unlucky

situation. Hickle breaks his wrist and he has got to go in. It was something he didn’t back away from. He stepped up to the plate.”

Now entering his junior season, Hicks’ comfort level has greatly increased. He feels more connected with his teammates. The confidence and experience he has gained with a full year under center will hopefully allow him to guide the team to more wins.

Hicks has learned that preparation is the key to becoming a successful quarterback.

“We are getting better in the offseason,” Hicks said. “I love spending time with the wide receivers out here on the field when everyone else is gone, spending nights with the offensive linemen looking at their blocks and your reads and figuring out what needs to get done with the timing aspects. That’s how you gel as a unit.”

Champlin has seen a big change in Hicks this preseason and said he looks like a different kid from last year.

“People don’t realize how important that sophomoreto- junior year is and how much growth can happen there,” Champlin said. “He has grown up. He is taller and got stronger in the weight room. He has matured a lot over that year. We are excited about him and ready to see what he can do. He can take this team to some new levels it hasn’t been in a while.”

Hicks defers the credit for his development to his offensive line. They share a bond built on trust.

“We never second-guess ourselves,” Hicks said. “We have trust in each other. They know that I am going to get the ball out and I know they are going to pick up the guy that’s coming. The brotherhood that we have will be the biggest key. It’s those five guys up front. Without them, we don’t have anything. I give all my thanks to them.”

Champlin said Hicks leads by example. He has been a positive influence on his teammates and quick to pick guys up if they need some extra motivation.

Hicks is working hard to be more vocal and is excited to lead this team on the field.

“I want to take control if something happens,” Hicks said. “I want to show what needs to get done and explain to my guys what we want to happen. We can talk about it and get it done together.”

The Raiders doubled their win total in 2017 from a season ago and are looking for much more this year. East Carter hasn’t made a playoff appearance since 2008. Hicks is eager to start the new campaign and ready put the program’s postseason troubles behind them.

“I told the team at camp that I am tired of being the laughing stock of football around here,” Hicks said. “It’s time to show what we can do. We are not poor old East Carter anymore. It’s what can we do now to improve. It shows that aspect of our team now and the confidence that we can be good. If you don’t think you’re good, you are not going to be able to do it. If you believe you have the confidence and the ability to do it, anything can happen.”

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