Photos from Saints defensive end Akiem Hicks autograph signing at Academy Sports + Outdoors
New Orleans Saints defensive end Akiem Hicks is 6 feet 5, 324 pounds. Probably, in his adult life, he can count on one hand the number of times he has been the smallest man in the room or vicinity, with four fingers to spare.
That'll change when he participates in the USO NFL Handshake Tour next week.
Not literally, mind you. Hicks still will be a mass of humanity that can be overwhelming upon first, second and third glance. But figuratively, when he gets the opportunity to talk to U.S. military personnel – the tour will take place March 10-18 – Hicks said that he'll shrink in the presence of the heroes.
"My Dad (Frank Hicks) served for 22 years (in the Army)," Hicks said. "And to tell you the truth, I was in ROTC in high school (at Del Campo High in Fair Oaks, Calif.) and that was the direction that I was headed. I got a little bit better at football, so I turned out to play football.
"But it's always been something that … those are people that I look up to. It just means a lot for me to go over there, and with my family ties – my Dad serving for 22 years – it means even more. It even hits home just a little bit more than I think with most people.
"It's just an honor to be able to speak with men and women that serve our country on a daily basis. I know everyone looks at our profession and they think, 'Oh wow, they do a pretty awesome job and they get to do these things that nobody else gets to do.'
"I really feel like those are the kind of guys that you need to look up to, those are the guys that you should admire, those are the guys that are really doing something for the country on a daily basis that not everybody can do."
The Tour, which will include several NFL players, will include stops in Kuwait (in Western Asia, near the tip of the Persian Gul), the United Arab Emirates (at the southeast end of the Arabian Peninsula on the Persian Gulf) and Djibouti (in the Horn of Africa).
Hicks, who finished last season with 41 tackles, two sacks and a pass defended, said he was honored by the invitation to be a part of the Tour.
"When I got the news I was so excited," he said. "I couldn't believe it because I'd watched this Tour go down several times, from when I was younger until being in the league, and just seeing guys go over there and get to spend time with the troops and give a little bit back to guys that give us so much. I was extremely excited to be able to go over there.
"I'm just humbled and really excited to be able to go over there."
Hicks said he gained his appreciation of men and women who serve through his father, whose teachings are still instilled in him.
"There was a set regimen in how our household was conducted and what everybody was required to do, from my sister on down," Hicks said. "There was a status quo that we had to meet on a daily basis. I feel that it instilled a certain amount of discipline in me which has carried over into my athletics.
"Being on time is a huge part of my Dad's regimen. He has a thing – he is so precise with his time that if we say we're going to meet somewhere, he means an exact minute. There's no, 'I'll be there in about 30 to 45 minutes.' He'll say, 'I'll be there in 23 minutes.' And he'll be there in 23 minutes. It's the most amazing thing and I do that myself a little bit. But I'm not as precise as he is."
Hicks, though, is extremely precise in what he expects from the Tour, and he's looking forward to feeling small.
"I'm excited," he said. "For me, I never envisioned being able to see those places and I'm excited for the opportunity, not only to see those places but experience them with people that I look up to."