TENINO — When University of Nevada football reached out to Takari Hickle on Aug. 27 asking him to fill out its recruiting questionnaire, he didn’t think a whole lot of it.
Sure Hickle, a soon-to-be junior at Tenino High School, was a star defensive end for the Beavers his sophomore year in 2019, earning first-team all-1A Evergreen honors. But what would a Division-I football team really want from a Class 1A football player from a rural town of 1,800 people in Washington state? More than he ever imagined.
There was only one problem.
“Every single time I tried to do it, my phone would glitch out,” Hickle said. “I felt really bad because I didn’t want them to think I was ignoring them or something.”
After two weeks and still no form from Hickle, the Wolf Pack went on the offensive. On Sept. 11, Nevada running back coach Vai Taua, who had played with Colin Kaepernick at Nevada from 2007-10 and later with the Seattle Seahawks’ practice squad in 2011, asked Hickle for his cellphone number. Two hours later, Hickle received the call of a lifetime. Taua offered him a scholarship to come play football for the Wolf Pack.
“I was in shock,” Hickle said. “It was crazy. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted in life. I was so shocked about it. It still blows my mind that this happened.”
It was Hickle’s first scholarship offer, and he wasn’t expecting it to be from a Division-I program. Only about 2 percent of high school athletes are awarded athletics scholarships to compete in college, according to the NCAA.
Hickle, at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, is rated a 3-star strong side defensive end by 247Sports. He is the 25th-ranked prospect in Washington and the 46th-rated strong side defensive end in the nation for the class of 2022.
His offer comes after the NCAA announced on Aug. 12 that it was extending its recruiting dead period to Sept. 30. A dead period is a time when “a college coach may not have face-to-face contact with college-bound student-athletes or their parents, and may not watch student-athletes compete or visit their high schools. Coaches may write and telephone student-athletes or their parents during a dead period,” according to the NCAA’s official definition.
Hickle was a captain on both the Beavers’ football and basketball teams. He was the starting center for the basketball team in 2019, averaging a team second-best 12.9 points per game. On the field, he was an honorable-mention offensive line pick as a freshman. It’s with cleats and a helmet on that he’s most happy.
“I love everything about it,” Hickle said. “I want to make my future out of it. It’s kind of everything I live for.”
What he most likes about football, which he’s been playing since he was little, is the energy and the team aspect of it.
“Once you put your cleats on and get on that field, there’s no other feeling in the world like it,” Hickle said. “All the problems and stuff you go through is gone. All you’ve got to do is lay your heart out on the field, and I think there’s something really special about a sport that can make you feel that way.”
Getting a scholarship offer means a lot to Hickle, who always wanted to go to college but wasn’t sure if it would ever happen. Getting this offer now nearly guarantees it. Plus, he’s not only dreamed of playing college football since he was little, but he wants to eventually reach the NFL someday, as well.
“It’s a really big step in the right direction for me,” Hickle said. “This is a really big milestone. It’s really great. Getting the offer has made me more adjusted to the fact that this will be my future.”
The University of Nevada, located in Reno, currently has four commits from the class of 2022. The Wolf Pack went 7-6 overall and 4-4 in the Mountain West Conference in 2019, highlighted by a comeback victory over Big Ten Conference foe Purdue. They qualified for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, a 30-21 loss to Ohio. There are no plans for a football season this fall as the Mountain West board of directors voted to postpone 2020 fall sports on Aug. 10 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hickle hasn’t committed yet and plans to wait and see what happens next as he has two full years of high school ball left. He wants to keep his options open and think things through before making a life-changing decision. For now, he’ll just revel in his newly-borne future and prepare for basketball this winter, where he hopes to lead the Beavers to state as a returning captain.
“I know for a fact that Nevada will always have a place with me because they’re the first,” Hickle said. “And I think that’s pretty special.”