"It's a different feeling, man," Dere admits. "I came in with Vontae (Davis), it's just a different feeling."
Last year was frustrating for the entire Illini secondary. Hicks explains what happened and suggests improvements he hopes to see this year.
"Last year, we didn't know each other and were just feeling each other out. There were so many young guys, we just weren't together as a team. We want to take steps forward this year as a secondary, go out there and play together as a team."
The 5-7 result in 2008 serves to motivate everyone.
"We're definitely more hungry, man. Coming off the Rose Bowl and going 5-7, that was a real disappointment. Everybody said we need to get back in and work harder so we can get back to the Rose Bowl. That's our goal this year."
The 5'-10", 175 pounder worked both at cornerback and nickel last year and excelled anywhere he was positioned.
"Wherever I can play on the field and get the most plays. I'm a team guy, so wherever the coach wants to put me, I'll play."
He is getting an excellent opportunity to refine his skills as he must compete against the Illini receiver corps, one of the team's strengths.
"We definitely have pretty good receivers. We go against the best receiving corps in the nation every day. It won't do anything but make us better as a defensive back corps."
The Roanoke, Virginia native is impressed with Florida transfer Jarred Fayson, who is now eligible to play.
"He's a great addition to the team. I think we could have used him a lot last year. He's a guy that just looks like a receiver. (Arrelious) Benn is the same as Fayson. I'm gonna enjoy seeing those guys play this year."
Dere Hicks is serving a leadership role according to head coach Ron Zook.
"He knows this is his last year. Seniors kind of turn the wick up. He's a quiet leader, he's not a real vocal guy. But he's always worked extremely hard. The young guys look at him as a leader."