CHICAGO – Engaging conversation is one of Akiem HIcks’ many strong suits. However, for the past nine months the heart and soul of the Bears defense has not said a word to the media.

Tuesday he broke his silence.

“The funny part about that is, I was on vacation. You weren’t going to speak to me anyway for a good period of time,” Hicks joked at a sneaker giveaway on the South Side. “Going into training camp, I wanted to focus on the celebration of this moment of reaching this point in my career.”

Hicks is one game into his 10th NFL season – his 6th at Halas Hall – without a contract extension, leaving his future in Chicago in doubt regardless of how badly he wants to retire as a Bear.

“I’ll do everything in my power to do so,” remarked Hicks. “That’s what I feel at the end of the day is right for me. I started a piece of my career here and it grew and it blossomed. I’ve just had so many joy-filled moments as a Chicago Bear. I can’t see myself in another jersey.

“The team is so much bigger than Lake Forest. When I come to the city and actually get a chance to see the faces that are cheering on Sunday, it’s huge. It’s colossal. Everybody has a foot in here.”

The 352-pound defensive tackle has made a giant impression on the city during his tenure, especially in the SOS Children’s Village, which builds foster homes in the Gresham neighborhood with the intention of keeping siblings together under one roof.

“He says to each one of our children, ‘You’re not neglected. You’re not alone. You’re not forgotten and you make a difference,’” noted Tim McCormick, CEO of SOS Children’s Villages Illinois. “Akiem has been transformational for our organization. He’s given holiday gifts. He’s given bookbags. He gave us money for education at one of the toughest times in the pandemic.”

“It’s just as much joy as I get on Sunday when I’m in front of 70 thousand fans,” Hicks explained. “I’m watching these smiling faces and they don’t care what the record is. They don’t care what happened last weekend. They’re just happy to hang out.”

If Hicks gets his wish, there will be plenty to smile about for everyone involved.