Aaron Mickens provided stability to an Iowa backfield that was ridiculously decimated with injuries in 2004.
The Iowa fullback from 2002-2004 stepped in after Jermelle Lewis, Albert Young, Marcus Schnoor, and Champ Davis all suffered torn ACLs during the 2004 campaign.
Those injuries coupled with Marques Simmons’ high ankle sprain forced Mickens and teammate Sam Brownlee to shoulder the bulk of the carries on an Iowa squad that would go on to win a share of the Big Ten title. He ranked fourth on the team in carries (42) and rushing yards (127), was fifth on the team in receptions (15), and he scored one of the team’s 10 rushing touchdowns that season.
“Aaron was a fierce competitor, and you could trust that he would leave it all on the field,” said former Iowa teammate Tyler Luebke. “He was a smaller guy but made up for it with effort and toughness.”
More than a decade removed from his playing days at Iowa, the former Hawkeye fullback is back in his home state of Texas, helping support young people who are experiencing hardships in their lives.
Mickens, 35, is two years into his job as Admissions and School Coordinator for the Austin Children’s Shelter in Austin, Texas. The shelter provides on-campus services for youth and families affected by abuse, mistreatment or neglect, and provides a safe place for these individuals to get care and have a chance to thrive and grow.
“It was an opportunity that evolved into a passion,” Mickens said. “I work with amazing staff, and I’m very happy and blessed to be in this position. It’s one of those jobs where you have to be resilient. You never see the rewards up front, but this work can yield great results. It’s really gratifying to know you played a part in creating a safe space for a kid.”
The former Hawkeye spends a typical workday reviewing each kid’s case information and history in order to find opportunities to provide support and create positive experiences for these children. On a given day, there may be as many as 30-40 kids at the shelter participating in a variety of programs offered by the organization.
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Mickens’ enthusiasm for helping kids started in high school when he participated in a program that helped elementary schoolers learn the importance of teamwork and other life skills. He remained involved in the community activism during his time at Iowa, where he took part in a youth leadership program in Johnson County.
His former teammate Luebke described Mickens as dependable and “the type of guy who would help an old lady cross the street.”
“It was obvious that helping young people was something Aaron was passionate about,” Luebke said. “It can be a thankless job and even when the neighborhood center in Iowa City lacked the resources needed, he never seemed deterred from doing the best he could for the kids. The world needs more people like Aaron Mickens.”
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Mickens came to Iowa from Copperas Cove, Texas. He dreamt of being a Longhorn, but the University of Texas didn’t call. Neither did Texas A&M or TCU. He took a visit to Iowa and committed in part because of Kirk Ferentz’s style of play.
“Iowa used the fullback on offense,” he said. “They were a gritty team that wasn’t flashy. Running the ball hard appealed to me.”
Mickens saw action in 31 games as a Hawkeye, carrying the ball 54 times and recording 17 receptions. The Hawkeyes won two bowl games and were Big Ten Co-Champs twice during his playing career. He recorded one rushing touchdown and one receiving touchdown during his time with the Black and Gold.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “Even though I wasn’t always on the field on game days, I was playing a role in preparing the team to be successful on Saturdays. I took pride in that. We wanted to beat the No. 1 defense in practice. Those things made our team better.”
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His work with Iowa City youth led to a full-time job with the Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County after his Hawkeye playing days. He served as Youth Program lead up until 2009 before deciding to move back to his home state of Texas to be closer to his family.
Personally, the former Hawkeyes hopes to one day get married and start a family of his own, but said he isn’t in any rush. Professionally, he hopes to continue climbing the ladder at work and has dreams of getting his Master’s in social work.
“I feel 120 percent blessed to have played a role in the lives of so many young kids,” he said. “I’m totally happy with the life I’m living, and I’m happy to have a family that has been proud of the work I do. Caring for people has always been an interest of mine. There aren’t enough people doing this type of work, and I hope it inspires someone to do something for somebody else.”
*Mickens photo courtesy of Iowa Sports Information.