Hickman's back woes behind him

Tiger-Cats defensive end Justin Hickman is pain free after being hampered by a back injury for most...

Tiger-Cats defensive end Justin Hickman is pain free after being hampered by a back injury for most of the season. (ALEX UROSEVIC/QMI Agency)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:05 PM ET

HAMILTON - Well before the season would begin, Justin Hickman started to wonder when it would end.

A car accident in the week prior to the opening of training camp had left Hickman with a back condition that soon became an albatross he couldnt escape.

When he needed to come off the line with an explosive step, none could be summoned.

When a play was required, Hickman now admits he left more than his share on the field.

But Hickman is now back, his back woes a thing of the past.

Throughout the process, Hickman never lost faith hed one day return to normalcy, but it was the uncertainty that proved difficult to tackle.

I didnt know how long Id be out, the defensive lineman said following Thursdays gathering. I didnt know if Id be ready for the pre-season, if Id be ready for Week 1 or if Id be ready for Week 10. I didnt know where my body would be at.

But now Im back to where I need to be.

A healthy, active, productive and dominant Hickman can only spell doom for opposing quarterbacks as the Ticats enter what is generally regarded as the CFLs crunch time with six games remaining.

At 6-6, the Ticats are well positioned to finally take that next step following two straight seasons of .500 regular-season football and painful post-season exits.

Offensively, Hamilton is quicker and more balanced, versatile and will soon welcome the return of veteran centre Marwan Hage.

But its on defence where teams ultimately must hang their proverbial hats on, an area that is sure to benefit from the presence of Milt Collins, a free safety acquired earlier this week in a trade from Calgary who has turned heads each day hes lined up in practice.

If Hamiltons defensive backfield can find consistency, it can only help a front seven that is loaded in talent.

The return of Hickman to an all-star level will help as well.

Against Calgary last Sunday, Hickman had two tackles, two sacks and forced one fumble.

To hear Hickman tell it, its been only the last couple of weeks when the lingering effects of his off-season car accident had been finally put to rest.

Ive been able to stretch my body the last couple of weeks, he said. Before then, I simply couldnt.

I remember back in training camp where it hurt when I would stand up or when Id be on my feet for extended time. It was weird because Id be hurting when I stood up and while sitting down.

Which didnt leave much room for any other option of comfort.

It came to the point where I worried given the way backs are, Hickman added.

Hickman credits the love from his family, prayers and the work from the Ticats athletic therapist, Carly Vandergrient, for getting him completely healed.

I cant say enough Carly and her staff, Hickman said. In football, they always say the hardest work is in the off-season. And Im seeing the results now.

All because Hickman no longer has to worry about his back.

When Hickmans core strengthened, he was able to keep his body upright, which takes a lot of pressure off the back.

When it comes to book-end defensive linemen in the CFL, none is better than Hamiltons combo of Hickman and Stevie Baggs.

Baggs attempted to latch on with an NFL team last off-season, a path Hickman is likely to attempt.

But before any future course begins to get forged, Hickmans focus remains on this season.

Against the Argos, Hickman understands what challenge awaits.

As far as our down linemen and front seven, the No. 1 goal is to stop their run game with Cory Boyd, Hickman said. Obviously theyre going to come out and try to hit us in the mouth.

We have to take their punch and throw one back. After that, we have to win first down and get them in a passing situation. We can then play our game and bring pressure.


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