Gang Tackled

Football star Jarvis Hicks couldn't resist the undertow of gang violence

Adamson played the role of Jarvis´ ¨dorm parent,¨ helping him in both the academic and football fields. He says he never worked more with a kid than he did with Jarvis. And he would need all the help he could get in Salisbury´s demanding environment.

Jeff Ruskin, who served as Salisbury´s dean of students last year, says the students have about 1,300 ¨commitments¨ -- meaning required classes, athletic activities, Episcopalian services, and other functions -- to attend during each typical school year.

¨We demand a lot from our kids, and as dean of students, he wasn´t on my radar at all,¨ says Ruskin, who is now a math teacher and head basketball coach at the school. ¨He was definitely not a problem kid. He seemed to buy into everything that we asked of him.¨

Jarvis Hicks runs the ball for Salisbury, with his good friend and roommate Zach Johnson blocking up front.
courtesy of salisbury school courtesy of salisbury
Jarvis Hicks runs the ball for Salisbury, with his good friend and roommate Zach Johnson blocking up front.
Jarvis Hicks
Jarvis Hicks

The truth, however, was that Jarvis was a reluctant Salisbury resident. Fellow football player, roommate, and friend Zachary Brown says most of the boys, in fact, wished they were elsewhere.

¨We spent most of our time reminiscing about what we thought was our better life at home,¨ says Brown, who is now playing football at Arizona State. ¨Jock felt like he belonged in Deerfield with his boys. We´re 18, 19. There are no girls, no cell phones. The things we value aren´t getting the good grades and getting to college. It´s what we´re missing back home with our friends.¨

Brown, whose family in Dallas has millions, says Jarvis usually had to count on others to pay for extra meals and nights away from the school. When it got cold, Brown told his parents he needed two coats, secretly giving one to Jarvis.

¨People liked Jock, so they´d always take care of him,¨ Brown says. ¨He´s a good person. The way he adapted to a different lifestyle so fast was amazing. He keeps you laughing. He´s pretty goofy. All he wanted to watch was the Cartoon Network. Not a lot really bothered him. He was never angry, ever.¨

His favorite cartoon character was Stewie, the sophisticated and diabolical baby from Family Guy. ¨He would get a picture off the Internet of Stewie and then make him black and put guns and blunts in his hand,¨ Brown recalls. ¨He had a fascination with guns.¨

Brown says he knew that Deerfield was a dangerous place and that Jarvis had ties to its underside: ¨You got the vibe that it was violent there. He talked about Haitians sometimes, said he didn´t like them. He told me he got into a fight with them over a girl once.¨

He even carried his Deerfield neighborhood with him on the football field. After spending the previous summer with his hometown friends, he arrived at Salisbury in poor condition. On the first day of workouts, he wound up so wracked with full-body cramps that he had to be carried by his teammates into the dining hall for hydration.

But he would go on to play both sides of the ball, at running back and linebacker. He led the team in rushing, had a couple of interceptions, and ended the season the fourth-leading tackler. That would be a highly successful year for most players, but not for the UConn-bound star. Adamson noticed the boy´s heart didn´t seem to be in it, and his lackluster performance showed in the team´s 3-5 record against other boarding schools like Hotchkiss and Cushing.

One game in which Hicks really excelled was telling. It occurred on October 29, 2005, the weekend his dad and brother were visiting. The foe that day was New Hampton, and Jarvis ran for 100 yards on 20 carries and had three solo tackles in a 28-21 victory. Having his family, a little bit of home, in the bleachers obviously motivated him, Adamson says.

The talent was still there, though. UConn signed Hicks to a second letter of intent for a scholarship to play football on February 1, 2006. But Jarvis knew there was a good chance it wouldn´t happen. He scored in the low 700s again on the SAT. Salisbury´s first-rate education didn´t seem to be taking hold.

Brown, who scored a 1310 on the SAT, began tutoring Jarvis on the test, determined to lift the grade above 1000.

¨We worked hard,¨ Brown says. Again, though, Jarvis scored in the 700s, which was extremely disappointing to them both. And he was failing a couple of courses.

¨At the faculty meeting, Jarvis came up every week,¨ Adamson says. ¨I wonder how many times he really had F´s but got C´s at Deerfield, because he didn´t have much basis for anything academically.¨

When UConn´s coach Edsall learned of Hicks´ scholastic troubles, he met the boy in Adamson´s office and told him he had to pick up his academic work.

¨[Edsall] laid out for Jarvis what he needed to get done,¨ says Adamson, who sat in on the meeting. ¨He told him that if he didn´t pick it up, then other students like him wouldn´t be able to attend Salisbury. If he kept falling down, that wouldn´t happen ever again.¨

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