‘Fast Eddie’ Hicks has place in Pirate lore

Oct. 03, 2013 @ 12:56 AM

It took East Carolina nearly 40 years to repeat what Eddie Hicks and the Pirates did in late October of 1975: beat North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

A 55-31 win Saturday in Kenan Stadium marked ECU’s third victory over UNC in 16 tries and Henderson’s Hicks played a major role in the first.

Hicks was only a freshman and the running back hadn’t been featured prominently in Pat Dye’s wishbone offense eight games into the season.

But “Fast Eddie” Hicks got his chance against the Tar Heels, taking his first handoff of the game from quarterback Mike Weaver for a 68-yard touchdown. He scored two more times as the Southern Conference Pirates rolled to a 38-17 win, their first over the boys in light blue in three attempts.

It was a battle for respect for a university still trying to reestablish its identity and move beyond its image as East Carolina Teachers College and East Carolina College.

“It was amazing,” said Hicks. “To them, we were ECTC, a small university not supposed to compete with them. We want to win every game — but that’s the one you want to win.”

Hicks was one of about seven capable ball carriers in Dye’s backfield, but the game at Carolina made him stand out and helped him earn a full scholarship after being recruited from Vance High School to run track and play football.

Hicks’ 95-yard touchdown run against William and Mary in 1977 is still the longest rushing play in ECU history.

Hicks was drafted by the New York Giants in 1979 and played three and a half seasons before injuries cut his career short.

Hicks, who returned to Henderson following his professional stint, calls himself a “true Pirate.” A Pirate Club member, he rarely misses a home game, feeling he owes it to the school for “turning his life around.”

Hicks played three seasons with ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill, a former defensive back, as the Pirates claimed a Southern Conference title in 1976 and an Independence Bowl win in 1978.

The days of the wishbone are long gone in Greenville. McNeill’s Air Raid, an adaptation of Washington State head coach Mike Leach’s pass-heavy offense, is in.

ECU was among the worst rushing teams in Division I FBS entering Saturday before running up 227 yards on the Tar Heels. Vintavious Cooper had 196 of those yards and quarterback Shane Carden found the end zone three times with his feet.

The convincing win and rather dominant performance in Chapel Hill harks back to that memorable day in 1975.

And Hicks is happy to relive it.

Contact the writer at kholtzman@hendersondispatch.com.