With back-to-back selections in the seventh round of the draft Saturday, the Bears chose Cal safety Elijah Hicks at No. 254 and North Carolina State punter Trenton Gill at No. 255.
Hicks appeared in all 54 games with 46 starts over five seasons at Cal, registering 213 tackles, 14.5 tackles-for-loss, 3.0 sacks, five interceptions, 14 pass breakups and six forced fumbles. Last year he was named first-team all-Pac 12 after generating a career-high 72 tackles, 5.5 tackles-for-loss, three interceptions and four forced fumbles.
Hicks played cornerback during his first three years at Cal, but he moved to safety before the team's bowl game in 2019 due to an injury to a teammate—and remained there full-time over his final two seasons.
"At Cal we've had really good safeties come through there," Hicks said during a video call with Chicago reporters. "They teach really good defense. The safety like controls the defense. They are the ones making calls and giving tags, so it's a big responsibility.
"I was really productive, making plays all over the field. It was a natural fit. I was really thankful that transition was happening. I'm more versatile now. I know what it's like to be on the outside. I know what it's like to be deep in the safety or even in the slot."
Hicks takes pride in his ability to generate takeaways; last season he recorded three interceptions and forced four fumbles. It's a vital aspect of the game that's being emphasized under Bears first-year coach Matt Ebrflus.
"I'm always around the ball," Hicks said. "I'm hungry. See ball, get ball. In the air or on the ground, I'm going to come up and make plays and get the ball out. That's the most important thing on defense.
"I love that, because as a defense, the ball is the issue. Turnovers and turnover margin is what wins games. So, getting the ball and forcing turnovers is what we're trying to do, that's what I'm trying to do, always find ways to get the ball."
Hicks has his own non-profit foundation, Intercept Poverty, and raised nearly $70,000 working with No Kid Hungry to provide financial assistance to low-income families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gill, meanwhile, was North Carolina State's regular punter each of the past three seasons, averaging 45.8 yards on 173 punts. In 2019, he ranked third in the FBS with a school-record 47.6-yard average on 56 punts. Last year the 6-4, 220-pounder was named first-team all-ACC after averaging 45.1 yards on 65 punts.
Gill was also a kickoff specialist for three years, producing 114 touchbacks on 198 kickoffs.
He was thrilled to receive a call from Eberflus informing him he was being drafted by the Bears.
"It was amazing," Gill said during a video call with Chicago reporters shortly after being drafted. "I got a call from Illinois. I'm like, 'Chicago is on the clock; it's probably them.' I answered it. It was the head coach. He's like, 'Are you ready to become a Chicago Bear?' I'm like, 'For sure. I'm ready to go. Ready to work. Ready to see what happens.' But it was definitely an amazing experience. I'm still kind of in shock that it happened."
With the 255th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Bears select NC State punter Trenton Gill.