On Friday, former New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks lined up alongside a slew of other former football players — including several ex-Giants — and took part in the XFL’s Summer Showcase.
The hope, of course, being that they can find their way back into professional football, even if it comes by way of a revitalized league that previously folded nearly a decade ago.
For Nicks, it’s just the most recent part of his journey back to football, which began with the support of his friends and a few words of encouragement courtesy of his former teammate, quarterback Eli Manning.
“Eli was like, ‘Man, you’ve still got a step. Why don’t you see if you can still give it a shot? You’re still young enough,’” Nicks said, via NJ Advance Media. “All my friends are in my corner still, pushing me to play. They know I love the game of football. It is what it is.”
Nicks had spent a good portion of the offseason working out with Manning in New Jersey, getting back into the flow of things and refining his routes while the two-time Super Bowl champion worked to keep his arm strong.
What surprised Nicks, even at the age of 31, is that his body felt good and his mind was clear after three years away from the game.
“I just want one last year to go at it and play before I get in my late 30s. I just want one last season, whether it be the NFL or the XFL. I’m not closing any doors,” he said. “I just want one last year to play ball. This was the opportunity, so I came and showed out.”
When the XFL came calling, Nicks, who was focused on an NFL return, jumped at the chance.
“Whatever comes my way, I’m willing to accept it. I’m willing to step up to the challenge. I’m a young 31, two years sitting down but staying in the game mentality,” Nicks said. “I’m ready and eager to get back on some football field and do what I need to do.”
Nicks hadn’t stepped onto a professional field since he was with the New Orleans Saints in 2016 — a brief stint that ended with his release during training camp. He has since acknowledged dealing with various leg injuries, including a previously undisclosed surgery to clean out his MCL and PCL.
Perhaps somewhat ironically, Nicks’ XFL workout came under the watchful eye of former Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, who will serve as the general manager and head coach of the league’s New York franchise.
“It brought back some good memories. He was a great player for us for a long time, and more importantly he’s an unbelievable kid. He’s a great person. It was good to see him,” Gilbride said. “I was anxious to see how well he’d run. Physically, he looks good. He looks like he’s been watching what he’s eating. That’s what I was afraid of, that he’d look a little fleshly, a little heavy, but he doesn’t. You know he’s going to catch the ball. He’s never been a speed demon.”
By all accounts, Nicks performed well and will now be entered into the XFL draft pool.
The draft itself will take place after the NFL goes through final cuts, and Nicks remains hopeful that his name will be called and he’ll get that one final shot to play the game he loves thanks to a little assist from Eli Manning.