UM-Dearborn alum shines on the Detroit Lions Drumline

January 10, 2024

The Lions' breakout season is making DeAndre Hicks’ first year with the team’s “Honolulu Boom” percussion group a memorable one.

Wearing his six-drum marching kit, Alum DeAndre Hicks entertains Detroit Lions fans outside Ford Field on a sunny day.
DeAndre Hicks entertains Lions fans outside Ford Field ahead of the Sept. 24, 2023 game with the Atlanta Falcons. Photo courtesy Detroit Lions

DeAndre Hicks (’21 B.S.) has already made quite a few memories in his rookie year with the Detroit Lions Drumline, but Thanksgiving Day likely tops the list. 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. Hicks says he remembers the moment the photographer took the shot, and 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’ve 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. 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 U.S., where many HBCUs have reinvigorated the tradition. Hicks ended up with an opportunity by geographical accident. 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 says. “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. 

DeAndre Hicks performs on the field with the Detroit Lions Drumline during a home game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Hicks takes the field during the Lions game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sept. 17, 2023. “I was telling one of my friends just how wild Ford Field is pretty much for every home game,” Hicks says. “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.” Photo courtesy Detroit Lions

Hicks, who also works full-time as a social media specialist at U-M’s Center for Academic Innovation, certainly picked a good time to join the drumline. The Lions’ 2023-24 season, which included 12 wins and the first ever playoff game at Ford Field, has been downright cathartic for fans and ignited an electric atmosphere at home games. The drumline is also playing an increasingly important role on game days. The group typically starts their 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. “The drumline is incredibly popular,” says Rebecca Smoker, the team’s director of entertainment, who helped retool the Lions drumline with Ohme several years ago. “The rhythm and the beats — it’s just one of the rawest forms of music —  and there’s something about that that people really respond to. So we’re constantly trying to find new ways to embed them in the actual game itself.”

Smoker says Hicks has added a lot to the crew this year. “The first thing I liked about DeAndre is that he has a very personable, authentic, genuine, humble nature about him, and when he’s performing very intensely, that still comes across,” Smoker says. “It’s hard to find people who can be very approachable, but very intense and have superior skills. I’m not a drummer, but I’ve been around the block a little bit in this career, and we really want great musicians and entertainers but we want great people and ambassadors, too. DeAndre brings all of that. He’s well liked by the fans. He’s got good moves. I think everything DeAndre embodies — that’s where our drumline is headed.”


Story by Lou Blouin