Liberty redshirt-senior running back Frankie Hickson had the best game of his career on Saturday as he helped lift the Flames toa 49-28 win over New Mexico State to become bowl eligible in the program’s first ever season as a full FBS member.
“I told Frankie Hickson in practice on Tuesday that I was going to ride him, and boy he ran like a senior should that cares about this university and cares about the results of this game,” Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze said following the game. “I am proud of the kids for playing out of love for one another and this university.”
Hickson ended the day Saturday with career highs in rushes (29), rushing yards (196), and touchdowns (4) as Liberty finished with a season high 317 rushing yards. In a senior class dominated by the record-breaking careers of quarterback Buckshot Calvert and wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden, it’s fitting that it was Hickson who’s star shined brightest on this important day for the program.
“I knew we could run the football on them,” said Freeze. “Our line’s been playing better and better and better as the year has went on. I wanted to eat a little clock in running. I know we can throw it too if we need to, but I wanted to put it in 23’s hands and let him carry us.”
Hickson has grown up in Lynchburg and the football program as his dad, Frank Hickson, was Liberty’s running backs coach from 2004-08, helping the Flames win the program’s first two Big South titles. This gave Frankie a special connection to Lynchburg, Liberty University, and the football program.
“I had a chance to know Dr. Falwell,” Hickson said. “We had a few conversations. He always gave the best hugs. I got a chance to know his vision, and I would have never, ever, ever thought that I would be given the chance to fulfill his vision. God has a plan for all of us. I just want to live in it.”
A few minutes after Frankie uttered those words, Dr. Falwell’s son, current Liberty president Jerry Falwell, Jr. gave him the biggest hug just outside the team’s locker room.
Frankie was never supposed to have the career he’s had. He entered the program without many offers despite finishing his career at local Heritage High School with 4,233 rushing yards and 65 touchdowns. He had 2,169 rushing yards and 37 touchdowns in his senior season alone.
But he entered the Liberty program without much fanfare. He redshirted in 2015 before contributing on special teams in 2016 where he excelled as a kick returner with 707 total kickoff return yards, the second most in program history. In 2017 and 2018, he was buried on the running back depth chart before emerging last season with 1,032 rushing yards.
“Every single game that I’ve played since I got here to Liberty, it’s just been whatever it takes, whatever the team needs” he said.
Following his performance on Saturday, Hickson has moved into 4th place on Liberty’s career rushing list with 2,778 yards and he’s 2nd on Liberty’s career all-purpose yardage leaders with 4,374. If he gets one more game, Hickson needs just 88 yards to pass Dre Barnes for first.
“I want to leave this next generation of Liberty football better than I found it,” Hickson said on Saturday. “I think we did that. Coach Freeze has done an amazing job changing the culture, and in the years to come you will see the full manifestation of what is about to come. Coach Freeze has done some pretty great things in just one season, and in a few years you will truly see what he has done here.”
Now, Frankie and the rest of his senior class wait. They wait to see if another game is in their future, if they get the call from a bowl game.
“We wait,” Hickson said about what he does now. “We make sure that we love on each other for the time that we have left. Hopefully somebody will take a chance on us and give us a chance so we can put the world on notice that Liberty University is here in the FBS and we’re here to stay.”
We won’t find out if that opportunity comes until this coming Sunday afternoon. Regardless, Hickson and the rest of the senior class have already left their stamp on this program that will last for years to come.
“To fulfill Dr. Falwell’s dream and to fulfill Coach Freeze’s plan for us,” Frankie continued. “Thanks to Coach Freeze and the staff for coming in and changing our culture. It just feels like a perfect story, like we’re living in a movie, but it’s real life and God’s perfect plan for us.”
For him to be part of the football team that saw the program rise from the FCS ranks to the FBS and be on the first team to become bowl eligible is the real perfect story. Maybe there will be a movie written one day about this team, this season, and this running back who was part of this team.
“This is home,” Frankie said. “Liberty is home. Williams Stadium is home. No better way to cap it off.”