By Daniel Silliman
Nate Hicks doesn't just hit the bag. He hits it as fast as he can.
With his heart rate up and his fists flying in quick combinations, he hits the bag: Left-right-left-right. Left-left-right. Left-left-right-left-right-left-right.
The Jonesboro-raised, junior middleweight boxer is coming off of two championship wins, and already he's training hard for the next fight.
"I try to make it as intense as I can," says Hicks, a 24-year-old, who speaks with a boxer's growly voice and a strong Georgia accent.
"I'm a speed boxer," he says. "I've got to get my heart rate up. Speed. I use my speed, that's my boxing style -- in and out ... stick and move. Hit him, and get out of the way, and hit him again."
Hicks, an Army Specialist in the Signal Division, won his weight class in the All Army Boxing Championship in Arizona at the end of January. Then, in early February, he won his weight class in the Armed Forces Boxing Championship in North Carolina. He's now assigned to the World Class Athletic Program for the Army, and is training for the national championship in March. He is working toward qualifying for the 2012 Olympics.
"He wants to go to the Olympics, and go pro eventually," said Hicks' father, Nathaniel Hicks, Sr. "People that know boxing, they see something in him as a boxer ... He can go either way with either hand. He's got a way of hypnotizing them, and they don't know which way he's going to go."
In the first All Army Championship fight, the younger Hicks knocked his opponent down in the second round. The fight between Hicks and Sgt. Shawn Sullivan, of Miesau, Germany, was stopped at less than two minutes into the second round, and Hicks won with a technical knockout.
In his second fight, against Spc. Justin Lubash from Fort Hood, Texas., Hicks won on points over the specialist, 32 to 16.
Tanja Linton, who covered the championship for the Army News Service, said Hicks makes a big impression in the ring.
"He's colorful," she said. "He wears these socks -- This time around he wore red and blue socks, but that was unusually conservative, for him. Normally, he wears these Dr. Suess-inspired, striped socks. He's a colorful character."
Formerly stationed at Fort Huachuaca, where the All Army Boxing Match was held, Hicks had a loyal following of fans at the championship fight, shouting encouragement.
"They call him 'Mr. Bojangles,'" Linton said. "They were shouting out 'Bojangles' and going crazy."
Hicks, who loves the "Bojangles," Cajun-styled, fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits combination, jokingly refers to his left hand as "chicken" and his right hand as "biscuits," saying he could serve up combinations all night long.
His Arizona fans, picking up the nickname and the slogan even if they weren't all familiar with the East Coast fast food chain, have taken to shouting "chicken an' biscuit, chicken an' biscuit, chicken an' biscuit."
After leaving Arizona with two wins and a gold metal, Hicks, the 2008 All Army Champion, went to Armed Forces Boxing Championship in North Carolina and won again.
In the fight against the Navy's junior middleweight champion, Master-at-Arms Albert King, Hicks knocked him down in the second round. The fight was stopped in the next round, and Hicks won on points,14 to 6.
In the second fight, against Air Force Senior Airman Joshua Gomez, Hicks won, 17 to 14, and became the 2008 junior middleweight champion of the Armed Forces.
"He was real strong," Hicks says of Gomez. "He was a very strong boxer and he wanted to win just as bad as I did, so that made it a good challenge ... I was doing good until I got close to him. I was blocking his punches, but they still sort of made me stumble. But I used my speed."
The senior Hicks, who closely follows all his son's fights, said in addition to speed, the younger Hicks won the four victories with endurance and style.
"He lets the other guy burn himself out, and then he goes to work on him," Hicks, Sr., said.
More than skill and more than training, though, the younger Hicks attributes the four victories and two gold metals to his relationship with God.
"If I just trust in God, I can do anything," says Hicks, who believes boxing has taught him discipline and brought him closer to God. "If there's no sin in my heart," he says, "and I trust in God, I can keep fighting when I'm tired. I can just trust in God, that's what got me here."
Hicks is now stationed in Colorado Springs, Colo., where he's training for the nationals and will prepare for the Olympics.
"That's all I do," says Hicks, who will soon move his family out to Colorado. "Train and try to make it to the 2011 Olympic tryouts. My mission is to try to fight for the Army and try to make it to the 2012 Olympics."
He wakes up at 5:30 a.m., and runs six to eight miles. He trains in the gym, jumping rope and running bag drills for three hours before lunch, keeping his heart rate up and working on speed and intensity. After lunch, he repeats the performance for another three or four hours.
"Right now," says Hicks, "I'm moving on to bigger and better things. I'm taking my boxing career to the next level. Everything's going according to what I planned and what I've been praying about for a long time.
"Right now, I'm not scared of nothing. I've got God with me and the whole state of Georgia behind me."