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Falcons' Massaquoi honors former teacher with $1,000 award

Atlanta Falcons defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi makes a surprise visit to his middle school P.E. teacher Ron Hickman after nominating him for the "Heroes in the Classroom" award at J.E. Richards Middle School in Lawrenceville Tuesday.


P.E. teacher Ron Hickman, center, is accompanied by Atlanta Falcons mascot Freddie and J.E. Richards Middle School Principal Mark McCain, right, during a surprise event where Atlanta Flacons defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi nominated Hickman for the “Heroes in the Classroom” award in Lawrenceville Tuesday. Sixteen teachers are nominated for this award around the state. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

P.E. teacher Ron Hickman, center, is accompanied by Atlanta Falcons mascot Freddie and J.E. Richards Middle School Principal Mark McCain, right, during a surprise event where Atlanta Flacons defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi nominated Hickman for the “Heroes in the Classroom” award in Lawrenceville Tuesday. Sixteen teachers are nominated for this award around the state. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

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Falcons' Massaquoi honors former teacher Ron Hickman

Atlanta Falcons defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi makes a surprise visit to his middle school P.E. teacher Ron Hickman after nominating him for the "Heroes in the Classroom" award at J.E. Richards Middle School in Lawrenceville Tuesday.

Atlanta Falcons defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi makes a surprise visit to his middle school P.E. teacher Ron Hickman after nominating him for the "Heroes in the Classroom" award at J.E. Richards Middle School in Lawrenceville Tuesday.

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Atlanta Falcons defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi embraces his middle school P.E. teacher Ron Hickman after nominating him for the “Heroes in the Classroom” award during a surprise visit at J.E. Richards Middle School in Lawrenceville Tuesday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

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Atlanta Falcons mascot Freddie mingles with students at J.E. Richards Middle School as defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi nominates his middle school P.E. teacher Ron Hickman for the “Heroes in the Classroom” award in Lawrenceville Tuesday. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

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Atlanta Falcons defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi poses for a photograph with his middle school P.E. teacher Ron Hickman, with Falcons cheerleaders and Principal Mark McCain during a nomination celebration for Hickman who received the “Heroes in the Classroom” award during a surprise visit at J.E. Richards Middle School in Lawrenceville Tuesday. The school received a $1,000 check as part of the award. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)

LAWRENCEVILLE — One of Ron Hickman’s most well-known former students paid him a visit on Tuesday, and gave him the biggest — and best — surprise of his life.

Jonathan Massaquoi, who attended Richards Middle School and was coached by Hickman, awarded his old coach with a “Heroes in the Classroom” award, which comes with a $1,000 donation to the school.

Hickman was honored with a surprise announcement in the school’s media center, and his emotions showed.

“I’ve got to watch it, I can’t let my players see me cry,” said Hickman, who has taught at the school for 21 years. “This is one of the greatest moments of my life because I do put a lot into it.”

Hickman said the money will be used to buy new basketball uniforms as the school transitions to a new cluster when the new Central Gwinnett/Berkmar relief high school is built. Previously, Hickman has held sports-related fundraisers such as soccer and 3-on-3 basketball tournaments to offset costs for the basketball program.

Hickman was one of 16 teachers around Georgia who received the award from the Falcons, and Massaquoi nominated Hickman because of what his teacher meant in Massaquoi’s life.

“I heard about this program and it kind of touched home to me,” Massaquoi said to Hickman. “I thought back and reflected about someone who was there not only for myself, but for the young men that I was around growing up, and how impactful you were on their lives. How you allowed them to carry what you gave them inside the classroom, and allowed them to carry that outside the classroom and apply it to their lives, from a moral and values standpoint.”

As part of the award, Hickman received an autographed No. 96 Massaquoi jersey, two tickets to the Carolina Panthers game on Dec. 29, a football, a Falcons bag and a plaque.

Recently, Hickman said he read an article about Massaquoi being an up-and-coming star for the Falcons, and how he received accolades from older teammates who mentored him about his work ethic.

“As a teacher, if I had anything to do with that, it makes me feel special, because I know what kind of player he is, and how much he’s gone through,” Hickman said. “He could have gone the wrong way, and he chose to be elite. You don’t have to be a professional athlete, you just have to be the best at whatever you choose to be.”

Before Hickman received a steady line of handshakes and well-wishes from his colleagues who said he deserved the honor, Massaquoi reminded everyone that it wasn’t just his life where Hickman made a difference.

“You’ve done a lot for this community, not only for Richards Middle School, but for Lawrenceville, Ga,” Massaquoi said. “You have to be recognized, and I’m here on behalf of my generation, and future generations that come after me.”