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Dy'kari Hickey runs drills during University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's Pro Day Tuesday, March 20, 2018 at D1 Sports Training in Chattanooga, Tenn.

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Dy'kari Hickey runs drills during UTC's Pro Day

In one sense, the glory days never have ended for former Cleveland High School football great Dante Hickey.

"We go out to eat and everybody knows him," says Tuwana Hickey, his wife of 18 months. "Everybody. Everywhere."

It's understandable. In terms of raw athletic ability, Hickey likely remains no worse than the second best athlete produced in this area over the last 40 years, right behind the late Pro Football Hall of Famer Reggie White. But while the lanky wideout and defensive back always will be fondly remembered for starring on state football championship teams in 1993 and 1994, as well as the state track title he helped the Blue Raiders capture, his scrapbook moments pretty much ended there, his once projected path to professional glory erased by self-inflicted wounds, both academic and personal.

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In this 2005 staff file photo, Dante Hickey, a 1995 graduate of Cleveland High School, stands above the field where he played with the state champion Cleveland Blue Raiders.

"In life you always have regrets," he said Tuesday morning as he stood inside D1 Sports Training near Hamilton Place. "I wish I'd been more disciplined."

Yet largely because of those youthful errors in judgment, he's always tried to make sure the sins of the father didn't trickle down to his son Dy'Kari Hickey, a former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga wide receiver.

Like 12 or so other ex-Mocs, young Hickey was also at D1 for UTC's pro day, hoping to impress a number of professional scouts from both the NFL and Canada. Unlike most of his teammates, he had a father who had traveled that route many times before.

"Oh, I went to tryouts and combines every chance I got," the elder Hickey recalled as his son ran a 4.4 40-yard dash, recorded a 37-inch vertical jump, performed admirably on the weights and caught everything thrown his way by former UTC quarterback Alejandro Bennifield. "I worked out in Las Vegas and Piscataway, New Jersey. I heard from the Jets and the Browns. But nothing ever panned out.

"My son's different, though. He's more disciplined; he has more drive. He knows what he wants and he's willing to work to get it."

Dy'Kari has certainly put in lots of hard work and lots of driving ever since he graduated from Hill Grove High School in Powder Springs, Ga.

"I started out at Blinn (Community College, where Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton once played), then transferred to Allan Hancock College in California," said the younger Hickey. "Then I went to Tennessee, but there were some problems with transferring a course credit, so I came here to UTC."

Thanks to a loaded receiver corps when he arrived in 2016 and a coaching change from Russ Huesman to Tom Arth before this past season, the 6-foot-1, 175-pounder rarely played.

That doesn't mean Arth, who spent time in the NFL as a quarterback, doubts that Hickey can play professionally in the future.

"He absolutely has a chance," Arth said at the close of the pro day. "A big part of it is Dy'Kari's ability to run and his ability to separate. He has top-level speed and he's quick on short routes."

Gerald Riggs Jr., the former Red Bank High and Tennessee star, has been training Hicks, along with several other former Mocs.

"He's really explosive," Riggs said. "He's a natural. Dy'Kari catches the ball well, changes directions well, runs routes well. The biggest thing for him is being consistent, staying on an upward trajectory. But if he gets an opportunity, he'll make the most of it."

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Chasing this dream began when Dy'Kari was 5 years old.

"Ever since I saw Reggie Bush catching touchdown passes for Southern Cal, I've wanted to play football," he said. "My mother (Renee Rogers, a former Cleveland High track great) wouldn't let me play until I was 7, but this has always been my dream."

To help make that dream a reality, he has worked out six hours a day for months, hoping to improve his speed, his strength, his route-running.

"If I'm not in class, I'm probably working out," he said. "I work out in the morning before class and work out in the afternoon and evening after school."

In between those workouts he's hoping to complete a degree in integrated studies with a focus on sociology and human health and performance.

"But football is what I'm going to do," Dy'Kari said confidently. "It's what I focus on every day."

His father is proud of the man he sees his son becoming. He readily admits, "His mother deserves a lot of credit for who he is."

But Dante deserves credit, too. Now 41, he has a good job at Paladin Attachments in Ooltewah. He has a loving wife. He has a son he's wisely advised about the pitfalls of early fame and opportunities lost forever.

"He's always told me that the parties and all that stuff will always be there, but that time will pass me by," Dy'Kari said. "You don't have much time to make it in this sport."

Like Dante Hickey, Riggs knows too well the truth in those words. Repeated injuries likely cost him the successful NFL career his father enjoyed. Yet he also thinks he knows potential when he sees it.

"I've seen guys with much less talent than Dy'Kari," he said, "make a (pro) career for themselves."

And should that happen, should he soon be playing for pay, the son just might become better known than his father. By everybody. Everywhere.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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