A paragraph on the back cover of Lester Hicks' new book "Against all Odds - 4th Down and Forever" pretty much says it all.
"If you root for the underdog, this book will reveal how the Marshall football program and Hicks' life rose from ashes to glory, both achieving levels of success neither had imagined possible."
Hicks, a 1970 Big Red graduate, was a member of the Marshall University program in 1972 and 1973, teams that took on the staggering task of re-establishing football at the school. He was a 6-5 defensive end on what was the second edition of the "Young Thundering Herd."
On Nov. 14, 1970, the lives of 75 people were lost in the worst single air tragedy in NCAA sports history. Among the losses were nearly the entire Marshall football team, coaches, flight crew, numerous fans and supporters.
For most people, the crash is a simply a tragic footnote in sports history, as well as the subject of the 2006 movie, "We Are Marshall." For Hicks, who resides in Powder Springs, Ga. with his wife Della, it is part of his life story. He returned to the Huntington campus last October when the school held a 40th anniversary reunion honoring Hicks and his teammates.
The event allowed him to renew the bond that he shares with his former teammates and prompted his decision to write the book. He began his work in February and his book was published on April 8 by Authorhouse.
Hicks encountered a life-altering experience and a date with destiny when the legendary Jack Lengyel, the head coach of Marshall University, recruited him. Lengyel told Hicks, "Other schools may want you, but we need you."
During his years at Marshall, the football program endured its lumps, recording a 2-9 seasons in 1972 before managing a slight improvement to 4-7 in 1973. In an effort to get the program off the ground, Hicks and his teammates made their fair share of sacrifices, gaining perspective along the way.
"I learned to sacrifice my talent for the betterment of the team by playing hurt and playing almost every position, including defensive tackle at 212 pounds, which probably cost me a potential career in the National Football League," he said. "On the football field, I worked as if I was to play for 100 years, and I prayed as if I was to die tomorrow."
Hicks' experiences at Marshall, as well as the memory of those who perished in the aircraft accident in, taught him to treasure each moment and each breath.
"I personally have learned that life is fragile," he said. "The loss of the players' lives taught me to never take life for granted, regardless of my age. I felt privileged to be a Marshall University football player, and I felt an obligation to play through frustration, fatigue and a partially torn deltoid.
"I learned not to complain about anything because millions would love to have the good and the bad of my life. I treat each day as if it is my last day of living. As a result, I accomplish what I can by not leaving anything for tomorrow."
In a summary about the book, Tiffany Hicks writes that her father's journey echoes the universal sentiment that you can beat the odds as long as you have faith, determination, discipline and a tireless pursuit of happiness.
"This book takes the reader on an insightful ride of heartbreak, triumph and perseverance," she notes. "In a time of despair, division and recession, a book like this is just what the doctor ordered because it's relatable and its message of hope and generosity transcends race, gender and/or age."
The book which carries a subtitle of "How the 1970 Marshall University Football Team Plane Crash Inspired Me" is available at www.amazon.com.
Hicks' book is the fourth on the Marshall plane crash.