By Will Brooks, LIFE University Athletics
When it happened, it saddened a community, but that’s an understatement to how it affected his best friend. “Traumatized” is the word that Trey Hicks would use to describe the incident that occurred on the night of July 26, 2010 at the local swimming hangout in Lowndes County, Georgia. This was the night where Hicks would lose his best friend, classmate, wrestling drill partner and someone who was “like a brother,” Devon Smith, to drowning in the Withlacoochee River.
Hicks, now a three-time collegiate All-American wrestler set to graduate from the exercise science program this December from Life University in Marietta, Ga., had been looking forward to many more years with his friend, as they had both planned to wrestle in college after graduating from Tift County High School just a month before the tragedy occurred.
“He wanted to wrestle in college more than I did,” said Hicks. “I was more on the fence. I’d always had to battle with cutting weight in high school and wasn’t too sure about pursuing it on the next level, but Devon’s the one who kind of inspired me to go for it.”
Both Hicks and Smith would go on campus visits together soon after graduating from Tift County, but after Smith’s death, Hicks’ outlook on going to college became seriously bleak. That’s where long-time mentors and father figures to Hicks, Mark Hasty and high school coach Shawn Watson’s words of wisdom made their mark that still bear strong in the heart and mind of Hicks today. “They were always there. They would say, ‘Trey, you’re going to college to get an education, you’re going to get out of Tifton and you’re going to go wrestle.’”
And that he did. It was then that Hicks made a vow to himself, Hasty, Watson and his late friend Devon that he would work his hardest and not waste the opportunity in front of him to pursue the dream they had both once held together.
Hasty, whose son Justin also wrestles at Life University, met Hicks when both Hicks and his son were in the third grade playing youth league sports. He would go on to coach them both in youth football and would always be there to cheer them on as they moved on to middle school and high school wrestling together.
“I got to know him better and better as we’d sit around and hang out in the gym during wrestling tournaments,” Hasty said of how his special relationship with Hicks began to take shape. “I just kind of kept up with him and saw that he needed somebody to hang around with him and guide him through life and give him some direction.”
Watson, Tift County High School’s long time wrestling coach, met Hicks in his ninth grade year while he was playing on the football team. Hicks ended up moving on from football and focusing on wrestling full time, and by his junior year he had developed into a force on the mat.
However, Hicks would not make weight at the state championships that year, which made Watson feel the need to be a little tough on him for motivation going into the next year. “I dug into him a little bit for that because he had the potential to go far that year but didn’t give himself the chance,” Watson said. “Going into his senior year though, I didn’t have to say much more.”
Hicks took his coach’s words to heart and used them as fuel for his senior year, working harder than ever to get back to state and prove that he could finish strong. Hicks ended up taking fourth place in his weight class and earning a collegiate scholarship, making both Watson and Hasty very proud.
Growing up in a small town with his brother and being raised by a hard-working, single mother who provided for them both and as Hicks put it, “did an amazing job by raising two grown, respectable men,” Hicks didn’t have that constant, male figure in his life to go to for advice, encouragement, accountability and just simply a listening ear. In Hasty and Watson, he found two.
With their help and constant support, traveling with Hicks all around the country during his collegiate duals and tournaments from his first two years at Darton College in Albany, Ga. to his transfer to the first-year, NAIA program at Life University, Hicks was able to fulfill that vow he made to himself, his long-lost friend, and his two father figures. Hicks placed eighth in the 2012 NJCAA Wrestling Championship at 184-pounds for Darton and then came to LIFE the following year along with Darton Assistant Coach Mike Miller, who was taking the head coach position there. In his junior and senior years during the first two seasons of LIFE’s wrestling program, Hicks became the first NAIA wrestling All-American at the University in 2013 with a fifth-place finish at nationals and followed that up with fourth-place All-American honors in 2014, his senior year.
Just a few days after his wrestling career had finished, Hicks took to Facebook to express his thoughts about it all by dedicating his four years on the mat to his best friend Smith and thanking his two fathers for, as Hicks put it, “giving me the chance to take over the world.”
Hicks also noted that he hoped Smith would be proud of him and promised that he would be successful for the both of them. It’s safe to say that the pride his fathers, coaches, teammates and fans who have encountered him along his journey is certainly being mirrored by Smith as he looks down on Hicks today.
After he graduates in December with his exercise science degree, Hicks plans to enter LIFE’s esteemed College of Chiropractic program. Along with wanting to become a successful chiropractor, Hicks also has a few other plans in mind. “I just want to help people. I want to go back to my community and help the kids by showing them how important it is to have your priorities straight, starting with education. I also want to create a foundation for single parents in honor of my mom.”
There’s no reason to doubt that Hicks can and will accomplish all of his goals, because when he vows to do something, he finds a way to succeed.