HUNTINGTON - Lester Hicks didn't experience much success on the football field while at Marshall University. Remember, though, Hicks suited up for the Young Thundering Herd in 1972-73.
That's when Hicks and his teammates were on a mission to revive a program that nearly was wiped out by a Nov. 14, 1970, plane crash. The chartered jet bringing the Thundering Herd team, coaches, athletic officials and fans home from a loss at East Carolina earlier in the day crashed short of the runway at Tri-State Airport in Kenova on that rainy evening. All 75 aboard died.
Hicks has worked for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company based in Marietta, Ga., for 32 years. He's currently an environmental staff safety engineer. Hicks and his wife, Della, live in Powder Springs, Ga.
If someone charted the achievements Hicks has compiled since he got his undergraduate and master's degrees at Marshall the way football statisticians record sacks, fumble recoveries, tackles for loss and pass breakups - Hicks played defensive end for the Young Herd - there's no telling how many notebooks he would fill. He has not met a problem he couldn't solve, be they at work, home, in the community or wherever his expertise might be needed. It's like 1-800-CALL-LES is his phone number.
Marshall is well aware of what Hicks has done. And after further review, it results in Hicks being named as the recipient of the 2016 Marshall University Distinguished Alumnus Award, the highest honor given by the university's alumni association. He'll receive the award Saturday night at the 79th Alumni Awards Banquet in Marshall Memorial Student Center. The banquet wraps up Alumni Weekend 2016.
"I didn't know the award existed," Hicks said Sunday night in a telephone interview from his home.
"Where I came from is against the odds. I help those less fortunate than myself."
Hicks was up for the award before, but didn't make the first cut. This time, after the Awards Committee reviewed all the nominations, alumni director Matt Hays called Hicks in late February and gave him the good news.
The trials and tribulations Hicks went through at Marshall - he once considered suicide - and those he saw his mother and father endure served as the stimulus for him to be a helper extraordinaire. It's all there in his book "Against all Odds - 4th Down and Forever." It details his life before Marshall, while at Marshall and the inspiration he drew from the worst single air tragedy in NCAA sports history.
"It's about where you finish," Hicks said. "I grew up in a two-room shack, no gas, no water. My parents couldn't read or write. They were masters in love and survival. All I saw my parents do was over the top. They didn't have a lot to give, but they gave what they had."
Hicks has earned 21 awards from the State of Georgia for his pollution prevention and community service efforts over an eight-year period. He holds four United States patents.
Away from work, Hicks shares the benefits of his experience on multiple fronts. He serves as a mentor to troubled youth, teaches Sunday school and serves on the Cobb Literacy Council to decrease the dropout rate and improve literacy in his county.
"Having gone through that process, I can teach any kid there's more in life than sports," Hicks said. "The degrees you can obtain as opposed to the shelf life of athletics. That's going to end at some point."
Hicks recalled working with one troubled youth who'd been kicked out of high school and sent to an alternative school. He set up a deal where he'd mentor that student once a week.
"I let him know he still can make it," Hicks said. "I give them goals to live by. I talk about career decisions. Don't do things that will get you on the 6 o'clock news for the wrong reason. Some don't see that. Parents and others I know seem to be all right with this."
When a problem gets solved, Hicks just smiles and offers a final bit of encouragement and advice.
"I asked people who helped me along the way, 'What can I do to repay you?' They said, 'Help the next person.' That's all I want now."