It’s been a long road back to the football field for Oregon State's Omar-Hicks-Onu after an ACL injury took away his 2018 football season.

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound defensive back is definitely not taking any moment for granted during training camp.

“It feels great being out here,” Hicks-Onu said. “For real, it’s like I got a breath of fresh air. It feels surreal being out here with my guys because last year I obviously couldn’t. I was on the sideline watching my guys put in work every day, tired, stressed. Now that’s me.

"Couple years ago I might have been sick of it but right now I love it just because I didn’t get to feel that feeling last year.”

Not having the ability to be on the field was a difficult reality to come to grips with, and Hicks-Onu admits he struggled at times to deal with that.

He realized how much he had taken for granted a game he has been around since he was 2 or 3 years old at his brother’s practices.

“The game was always a part of my life so I didn’t think of not having it,” he said. “So last year when I didn’t have the game I didn’t know what to do with myself. I was stressed, I was a different person for a little while. Once I realized how much I loved the game I got my mind right and started doing better.”

Hicks-Onu credits roommates and fellow defensive backs brothers Jalen Moore, Jay Irvine and Jaydon Grant for all kinds of support.

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“I leaned on them last year and they were there for me when I needed them,” he said. “It’s just a brotherhood bond that we had.”

While he was unable to play as he rehabbed, Hicks-Onu did the best he could to learn a new system under defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar. And he wanted to make himself as valuable as possible.

“I tried to pick up the scheme as much as I could, even though it’s harder to get mental reps than it is physical reps,” Hicks-Onu said. “I tried to understand the playbook because I wanted to help the guys that were out on the field, I wanted to help (former) coach (Greg) Burns out. I wanted to help everybody out on the field. If they needed somebody to lean on, if they wanted somebody to ask questions to, I could be that guy.”

Now back on the field, Hicks-Onu said he is 100 percent and has mostly been working on what he called the little things in order to be ready to go for the season opener on Aug. 30 against Oklahoma State inside Reser Stadium.

He’s certainly been pushed throughout training camp thanks to a deep defensive backfield group as well as a strong group of receivers, but could find himself in the starting lineup.

“If there is one thing I absolutely can’t live without is competition,” he said. “We were playing dodgeball the other day and I was getting heated in the moment. But playing with them guys every day, we all competing, we all know we competing against each other but we love each other at the same time. We want to help each other because we know whoever is on the field we’ve got to really count on them. So we’re competing against each other but helping each other at the same time.”

When asked about the emotions he might feel as he takes the field against the Cowboys, Hicks-Onu said he’s only focused on one thing.

“I’m going to be thinking about tearing them boys up to be honest,” he said with a smile. “All that last year stuff is in the past, now I’m looking forward. I can’t let the past define me. It’s all about the future and what I’m going to do.”

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Sports Editor

Sports editor of the Corvallis Gazette-Times and Albany Democrat-Herald