Akiem Hicks embarked on what he called "a crazy, wild, unpredictable ride" of a football journey.
His path to the NFL was hardly direct, with detours taking the defensive lineman from Del Campo High School to Sacramento City College, LSU, Regina University in Canada, then to bedlam at home in Elk Grove on Friday night with a draft call.
A third-round pick by the New Orleans Saints, Hicks highlighted an impressive haul of local talent that will soon report for work.
On Saturday, pals Devon Wylie and Miles Burris from Granite Bay High School followed through on a pact they had made in childhood: to make the NFL. Wylie, a wide receiver from Fresno State, was picked in the fourth round by Kansas City. Burris, a linebacker out of San Diego State, went in the same round to the Raiders, meaning that for the first time, they might have to tackle each other. The Raiders and Chiefs represent one of football's storied rivalries.
In the fifth round, defensive back Asa Jackson from Christian Brothers and Cal Poly went to the Ravens, and linebacker Josh Kaddu from Vacaville and Oregon was picked by the Dolphins. In the sixth round, cornerback Isaiah Frey from Jesuit and Nevada was tabbed by Chicago, where his teammate will be six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs of Elk Grove.
Burris fielded his draft call at his family home in Granite Bay, where family members erupted when they heard the news. Burris grew up as a Raiders fan and said he can still use his drawer full of Silver and Black items. He set tackling records at Granite Bay and led San Diego State in stops in each of his final two seasons.
Hicks, the Saints' first pick, said he cannot get over the euphoria of his journey. He admitted he was not the best student at Del Campo, nor was he the most mature young man when he played at Sac City. But he grew in bulk and as a man, his coaches and family members said. His football ability made Hicks a hot prospect in college and during NFL workouts.
Hicks didn't play at LSU, where he was sidelined by recruiting violations that included an excessive number of phone calls from coaches to him. He wound up at Regina and feared he might never get on the NFL radar.
Hicks dominated East-West Shrine Game practices, and in the game, he manhandled foes by showcasing remarkable agility and speed at 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds.
"My head coaches in Mike Dimino at Del Campo and Dannie Walker at Sac City told me that I'd get knocked down in this game, but it was up to me to get up with fire, be better than before, and I have," Hicks said. "I'm a different man now, all grown up, ready to go. As for my journey, it's been a long one, and it's been a rough one, but it's been worth it."
Said Walker, the Sac City coach: "Akiem had the willpower and pride to stick with this. I got a lot of calls from NFL people. I told them that Akiem's a high-character guy. He can move ridiculously well, just an amazing athlete, a big-time freak of nature. Sky really is the limit for him, and we just talked that he is now officially living the dream. Take advantage of it."