Throughout the process, Hickman never lost faith he’d one day return to normalcy, but it was the uncertainty that proved difficult to tackle.
“I didn’t know how long I’d be out,’’ the defensive lineman said following Thursday’s gathering. “I didn’t know if I’d be ready for the pre-season, if I’d be ready for Week 1 or if I’d be ready for Week 10. I didn’t know where my body would be at.
“But now I’m 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 CFL’s 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 it’s 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 he’s lined up in practice.
If Hamilton’s 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, it’s been only the last couple of weeks when the lingering effects of his off-season car accident had been finally put to rest.
“I’ve been able to stretch my body the last couple of weeks,’’ he said. “Before then, I simply couldn’t.
“I remember back in training camp where it hurt when I would stand up or when I’d be on my feet for extended time. It was weird because I’d be hurting when I stood up and while sitting down.”
Which didn’t 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 can’t say enough Carly and her staff,’’ Hickman said. “In football, they always say the hardest work is in the off-season. And I’m seeing the results now.”
All because Hickman no longer has to worry about his back.
When Hickman’s 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 Hamilton’s 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, Hickman’s 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 they’re 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.”