Hakeem Nicks enjoyed a successful career with the New York Giants.
In 76 games across six seasons with Big Blue, Nicks caught 318 passes for 4,676 yards and 27 touchdowns. He currently ranks ninth in receiving yards and 10th in receptions on the Giants' all-time leaderboard. He played a key role in the team's run to Super Bowl XLVI when he reeled in 28 passes for 444 yards and four touchdowns in those four postseason games, including 10 receptions for 109 yards in the Super Bowl against the Patriots. His 444 receiving yards is the second-most in a single postseason in NFL history.
But before the Giants selected him with the 29th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, Nicks made a name for himself at the University of North Carolina. The wide receiver spent three seasons with the Tar Heels and was twice named First-Team All-ACC (2007, 2008).
Nicks recently gave back to his alma matter, making a sizable contribution to name the wide receiver meeting room in the Kenan Football Center in Chapel Hill.
"It's always good to be able to give back if you're in that position," Nicks told Lee Pace of goheels.com. "I owe a lot to the University of North Carolina. They were the only school to offer me a scholarship. They gave me the opportunity, and that means a lot to me. They believed in me before anyone else did.
"They prepared me for life beyond Carolina, particularly going to a market like New York in the NFL. Things like having a presence, how to carry yourself, to be humble, to interact with the media. We had a seminar on dinner etiquette. There were so many things I faced that I was prepared for because of the University of North Carolina."
In just three seasons, Nicks made a lasting impression on the program. He ranks second in school history with 2,840 receiving yards and 21 touchdowns, and finished third on the school's all-time list with 181 receptions.
Nicks arrived at North Carolina in August 2006, the same time as quarterback T.J. Yates. While Nicks would go on to play immediately as a freshman, Yates was redshirted before starting parts of the next four seasons.
The two got to know each other well on and off the field, and Yates said it did not take long for everyone to see just how talented the wide receiver was.
"We got to campus and you said, 'Holy cow, this guy's an amazing receiver,'" said Yates, who spent seven seasons in the NFL as a backup quarterback. "He did things all the time in practice and in games that would continue to wow you. This guy is just so different. He's not a normal freshman. You knew he had the potential to help right away. He never stopped. He was a good guy and good friend, a very good teammate. He was a quiet guy, but man he showed up on Saturday.
"And he was super strong. He was not just a good ball-catcher and route runner, but he was a strong dude. His ability to throw DBs around and get open and his catching ability were off the charts. He had some of the biggest hands I'd ever seen or shook. I think he wore like 4x gloves."
Nicks has been out of the NFL for several years now. Since his playing days have come to an end, the wide receiver has spent time in North Carolina with the Tar Heel football team. He attended practice one day last fall, where head coach Mack Brown welcomed him to address the team afterward.
"Hakeem did a great job with our players," Brown said. "He had their attention talking about competing. He told them about getting to the NFL and dropping some balls early. One of his older teammates pulled him aside and impressed upon him how hard the game was at that level, how his work ethic had to improve. Hakeem said from that point on he was early to practice and the last to leave, that he spent every minute he could working on his pass-catching skills. He said that was what made him a great player."
North Carolina has a number of players in the NFL today, such as Chicago Bears EDGE Robert Quinn, Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Eric Ebron, Carolina Panthers safety Tre Boston and Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
Nicks is hopeful that his philanthropy will help lead other former Tar Heels now in the NFL to contribute to the program Brown is building in Chapel Hill.
"I came as an 18-year-old boy and left as a young man," Nicks said. "It's important that I give something back and try to help another young guy coming along."
View photos from the career of Super Bowl champion wide receiver Hakeem Nicks