By Julie Bacanskas

At 6-1, 236 pounds, Jordan Hicks seems the epitome of strength.

Opposing teams cannot ignore the linebacker’s presence in the center of the Eagles’ defense week in and week out. During the 2016 season, Hicks racked up 95 total tackles, five interceptions, a sack, and a fumble recovery while playing 95 percent of Philadelphia’s defensive snaps.

But strength isn’t necessarily measured by a person’s size or on-field performance. It’s not equal to the amount of impact plays he makes or the number of wins his team accumulates.

Hicks figured out that life lesson early. Greg Osinski, a friend who would quickly become the most influential person in the linebacker’s life, taught him that.

During his sophomore year at Lakota West in West Chester, Ohio, Hicks was introduced to Osinski, a student with muscular dystrophy. Osinski’s friends, who were all seniors, were preparing to graduate and move on to college, but he was going to remain in high school.

Approached by Osinski’s aide, Darren Walters, Hicks and a group of athletes began spending their fifth-period lunch in study hall with their classmate. Originally, the linebacker looked at it as a way to be a blessing in someone’s life, a way to do something meaningful for a person in need. He didn’t anticipate the bond he and Osinski would develop, nor did he expect his friend to be the one who was a blessing.

“First time I met Greg, it was unknown territory for me,” Hicks recalls. “I never had really been around someone with a serious illness for a long, extended period of time. I wasn’t sure how to treat him, wasn’t sure what it was like, all these different things. He’s sitting there in a wheelchair, could talk fine, thought just like any of us. Nothing was wrong with his head or speech or anything like that at the time.

“It was one of those things that you slowly realize he’s one of us. He’s just a normal kid with goals and aspirations and dreams, a whole lot of things in his life, and this is just something that God’s put on him that he can’t control but he’s making the most of it.”

According to Hicks, Osinski was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in elementary school. He had played sports and been an active, fully functional kid up until that point.

The illness changed his life, but it didn’t change who he was.

The number of students in that study hall period grew as Hicks and his friends became closer to Osinski. Sometimes there would be 10 to 15 people cramped in one little room, Hicks says.

“You weren’t really in school anymore,” he explains. “You were just hanging out with your boys and Greg was right along with us. We were able to have a true, deep connection and go through a lot of things together, see a lot of stuff.”

In the back of all their minds though, they knew Osinski was dealing with something extremely serious and sadly, he wasn’t going to be with them forever.

Hicks made the most of their time together. A heavily sought after football prospect, he included Osinski in every step of the recruitment process. He and his friend met college coaches such as Urban Meyer, Jim Tressel, and Mack Brown. Hicks would ultimately decide to play for Brown at Texas.

But the linebacker never lost sight of the fact that being a football player didn’t make him brave, especially as he watched Osinski battle every single day for the things he took for granted.

“For me, I would put myself in his shoes at times and think about what would happen if I was to be diagnosed with something this severe, where you know your time is limited and you’re basically counting down the days,” Hicks says. “I’m the No. 1 player in high school football in Ohio, the best linebacker in the country, got all these colleges coming after me, but yet I’m nowhere as strong as this kid who has muscular dystrophy and is in a wheelchair every day, who understands the fact and has to cope with the fact that as an 18, 19, 20-year-old kid he’s going to die soon. To me, it was just so deep.”

Hicks admits that more often than not, he would overlook the severity of Osinski’s situation. In his mind, his friend was just like the rest of them. There wasn’t anything different.

However, when he would sit down and truly think about it, Hicks would realize the difficulties Osinski had to endure on a daily basis.

“It was like man, I have no clue. This dude is a warrior,” Hicks says. “He comes to school every day with a smile on his face, making jokes. We probably got on him harder than we got on everybody else just because he was one of us. It didn’t matter that he was in a wheelchair. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t move his legs, couldn’t do anything. We still got on him, just like he was one of the boys.

“To see his attitude, his true heart through the entire thing be exposed, he was a blessing to all of us. I would have never had the friendships that I have today without Greg Osinski being in place and him being the piece that God used for everybody else and to see him just dominate through that illness was amazing.”

Hicks was off to Austin, Texas after graduation and began his college career with the Longhorns. Being far away from Ohio didn’t affect his relationship with Osinski though, they remained as close as ever.

Then, on September 30, 2012, came the day he, Osinski and all their friends knew was inevitable – a day they never wanted to come. Osinski passed away at the age of 23. One minute he was with them and the next, he was gone.

“It was tough. I was hurt and in Texas. I tore my groin off the bone,” Hicks says. “I got a call. I knew he was struggling. He had been in and out of the hospital for a while and the last time I saw him was in the hospital. He had gone in for something, not sure what it was, but we went and saw him before the season.

“I get back to school, get hurt, whatever. He’s at home and he’s fine. He had actually gotten a brand new tattoo on his arm the day before. Tells you about who he was. He was awesome. But, he had gotten a tattoo and the next day he passed.”

Hicks’ coaches allowed him to go home in the middle of the week to attend Osinski’s funeral. He thanks God he was able to go back to Ohio for that, he says.

And although it was hard, Osinski’s passing meant the battle was over, the pain was done.

“He had a lot of things he had to deal with. Being here on earth, there’s a lot that he was going through, a battle between life and death really at the end of the day,” Hicks says. “So, I guess there was a sense of peace knowing that he wasn’t going through that anymore, knowing that he was in a better place and he’s not suffering.”

While Osinski is no longer here physically, the things the linebacker learned from his friend are always with him. There’s no one else who has influenced him the way Osinski has and still does every day.

As Hicks continues to find success in his NFL career, he will also look for ways to change lives, just as Greg Osinski forever altered his.

“I originally was doing it to be a blessing. I think at the end of the day, he was the blessing for me,” Hicks says today. “Hopefully, I can touch other people’s lives the way Greg was able to touch mine.”

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