Social media specialist drums up support for Lions

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DeAndre Hicks has already made quite a few memories in his rookie year with the Detroit Lions Drumline, but Thanksgiving Day was special.

A few hours before gametime, he and other members of the percussion group were warming up when their director, Todd Ohme, found Hicks and nudged him to take a peek at Ohme’s phone.

“My wife just got a physical copy of today’s paper, and look who’s on the front,” Ohme said, presenting Hicks with a screenshot of the front page of that day’s Detroit Free Press.

There was Hicks, a picture of cool, wearing his six-drum marching kit, head-to-toe Lions garb and black sunglasses, aiming a drumstick right at the camera.

A photo of a man playing the drums before a Detroit Lions game.
DeAndre Hicks, social media specialist at the Center for Academic Innovation, entertains Lions fans outside Ford Field ahead of the Sept. 24, 2023, game with the Atlanta Falcons. (Photo courtesy Detroit Lions)

Hicks, social media specialist at the Center for Academic Innovation and a UM-Dearborn alumnus, says he remembers the moment the photographer took the shot. When the guy circled back and asked his name, Hicks thought there might be a chance he’d end up in the story.

But in an era of digital news, landing on an actual front page was still a thrill.

He immediately called his mom — the woman who bought him his first drum kit when he was 2 years old in an effort to nurture his talent and save her pots and pans.

All weekend, his phone was blowing up with messages from friends.

Scoring a spot on the Lions Drumline, a crew of percussionists who have become fan favorites for their entertaining pregame and in-game performances at Ford Field, has been one of Hicks’ dreams since he was in middle school.

He distinctly remembers his reaction to first seeing an early incarnation of the Lions Drumline at a football game and the Pistons Drumline on the local news.

“That. I want to do that,” he told himself.

Still, figuring out how to live that dream wasn’t obvious. Drumline, which has its roots in military marching music, is a niche musical discipline. It’s related to, but still somewhat distinct from, the marching band tradition.

A photo of three men playing drums inside Ford Field during a Detroit Lions football game.
DeAndre Hicks, social media specialist at the Center for Academic Innovation, entertains Lions fans outside Ford Field ahead of the Sept. 24, 2023, game with the Atlanta Falcons. (Photo courtesy Detroit Lions)

And unlike the latter, there aren’t ample opportunities for young people to learn the craft and compete through their schools, particularly outside the southern United States, where many historically Black colleges and universities have reinvigorated the tradition.

Hicks ended up with an opportunity by geographical accident. During his freshman year of high school his family moved to West Bloomfield, where his street address put him just inside the boundaries of the Walled Lake school district. By chance, Walled Lake had one of the best drumline programs in the state.

Hicks played and competed with the drumline his remaining three years of high school, but after that, he put drumline on the back burner to focus on his college studies.

“Then — and this would have been probably in January of last year — I went to a Lions game with one of my best friends, and I see that a good portion of the drumline are actually friends of mine or people I know,” Hicks said. “And I just looked at my friend and said, ‘You know, I think I’m going to audition for Lions Drumline next year.’”

A few months later, he bumped into an old friend, Rico Ortiz, who’s a member of the drumline. Ortiz walked up to Hicks and simply ordered him to try out.

“‘Yo, what’s up? Audition for Lions Drumline.’ That’s literally how Rico started the conversation,” Hicks says, laughing.

After one video and one in-person audition, Hicks had earned his spot on the crew.

On game days, the drumline typically starts performances outside the stadium, revving up fans in Pride Plaza and Gate A, after which they work their way inside for additional pregame and in-game performances that are part of the Lions’ official entertainment package.

Hicks picked a good time to join the group.

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The Lions’ 2023-24 season, which so far has included a division championship and the first playoff game and victory in Ford Field history, has been downright cathartic for fans and ignited an electric atmosphere at home games.

“I was telling one of my friends just how wild Ford Field is pretty much for every home game,” Hicks said. “I don’t know if it feels different because I’m on the field now or because of the season the Lions are having, but it’s fever pitch at this point.

“It’s funny because when I’m playing, I tend to tune out how many people are in the stadium, but then all of a sudden I’ll look up, and you see everyone fully invested in what’s going on. It’s absolutely wild and overwhelming.”

The Lions beat the Los Angeles Rams on Jan. 14 for the franchise’s first playoff victory since 1991. Hicks was there to absorb all the hype and pageantry of that special night.

“It was incredible,” he said. “Being able to play a part in such a historical night for the Lions is a feeling that is difficult to put into words.”

One might think performing in a stadium packed with about 70,000 people would stir butterflies in the stomach. That’s true for Hicks, who uses that to his advantage.

“The nerves hit for me when I look at the crowd and realize how many people are in attendance,” he said. “Those nerves also hype me up.”

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