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Nichols made it look too easy in record-setting year

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

(Photo)
Nick Nichols
SIKESTON -- There wasn't much that could stop Nick Nichols.

Whether the state champion track star wanted to blow by an offensive lineman or the 195-pound wrestler pushed his opposition aside, Nichols made them both look too easy.

He made tackles behind the line of scrimmage more times than anyone in the history of the state of Missouri adding an unstoppable component to yet another potent Sikeston Bulldogs defense in 2012.

Nichols is a physically imposing figure, standing at 6-4, 195 pounds, and possesses a rare mix of speed and power.

"People would not run toward him," Sikeston head coach Kent Gibbs said. "You'd also see a lot of times in passing situations that he would see double teams. They definitely knew he was there."

Not many facing him on the other side of the line of scrimmage could out-run or shake Nichols, who is part of the 2012 state championship 4x200 meter track relay team, once he had them in his sights.

"Nick's always been very quick, and for that matter, fast too," said Gibbs. "He's always been quick off the ball. This year, I think he learned a little bit more technique and learned how to use the leverage he had. Leverage and quickness really are his assets."

His goal -- "to get to the guy with the ball as fast as possible" -- was met most of the time.

Nichols broke the Missouri high school football record for tackles for loss with 36. He finished his senior year with 100 total tackles (79 solo, most on team), a team-leading nine sacks and three forced fumbles (also a team-high).

"Nick is one of those guys that realized his potential," Gibbs said. "He became consistent as a senior, not only in games, but in his practice habits and how he went about his business."

Nichols was part of a Sikeston defense that was downright stingy.

Sikeston, who finished 9-2, allowed just 12.2 points per game and held opponents to 104.5 rushing yards a game as well. The Bulldogs gave up 176.4 yards per game.

"We're a defensive team. Always have been," Nichols said. "We always look forward to defense in practice. Everybody gets up and is ready when it's defense time."

The Bulldogs' coaching staff knew what they had in Nichols. The senior had his end of the defensive line on lock allowing Sikeston to move other defensive players around whether to blitz from the opposite side, or overload that side because they knew Nichols would be there controlling the back side.

"Any scheme that you have, you want to take advantage of what you have," said Gibbs. "The idea that you're locked down on that one side allows you to do some things in different areas."

Although Nichols stood out among the rest and was singled out by offensive coordinators everywhere, he will be the first to tell you it wasn't all his doing.

"For me, it was more of a team thing," Nichols said. "I had a stellar year. My year was great -- along with Aundrea, Blake, Kyland (Gross), Chris Word. We had the team on our backs.

"I would rush the quarterback and Aundrea would be right there to pick it off. I'd blitz in, Blake would be right there to pick it up. Just a team effort."

The superior play of Sikeston's leading tackler, Blake Flannigan, and the rise of fellow linebacker Aundrea Golden was key in Nichols' success.

"Those guys formed the nucleus of our defense with Nick being a big part of that," Gibbs said. "We were pretty consistent with what we did on defense. Nick was certainly one of those guys. But, it was kind of a different deal because it wasn't by himself. He had some help."

Flannigan led the Bulldogs with 127 total tackles and also had 21 tackles for loss. Golden had a breakout year with 70 total tackles, 18 tackles for loss, six interceptions and four fumble returns.

Nichols' dominance on the right side of the line, was just as helpful for those two and their success as well.

"Any time you have a dominant player it allows you to do other things and it also frees up other players to have good years," Gibbs said. "We had some really good defensive players and we had other defensive players, I wouldn't want to say played over their heads, but they certainly exceeded what our expectations were. It had a lot to do with what Nick did, as well as Blake and Aundrea did."

On the same turf as the pros trod around on, Nichols emerged as a force to be reckoned with during Sikeston's Week 4 matchup with the Farmington Knights at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis.

"I think Nick rose to the occasion that day and certainly played a great game," Gibbs said. "He had some other ones along the way too."

Nichols led the Bulldogs with 12 tackles and made the biggest impact in holding Farmington to 196 total yards.

Nichols, who was awarded Sikeston's Player of the Game presented by the GAFC, had a huge hand in turning Farmington's running game into nothing, tallying five tackles for a loss and two sacks. He also recovered a fumble.

The Knights were held to 17 yards on the ground for a per carry average of 0.7.

"If you've got ability and you work, put all that together on a consistent basis, you ought to have a good year. He certainly did," Gibbs said. "He put all those things together. I felt like he got better and better."

Nichols, who has been playing football since his flag football days, took it especially hard when Sikeston's season ended prematurely in their eyes.

In their second meeting of the season, Cape Central defeated the Bulldogs 17-14 during the Class 4, District 1 semifinals.

Now that his high school career is over, Nichols is looking toward the future.

He has garnered interest from the likes of Southern Illinois University as well as a few others for football. He's also been contacted by the University of Iowa for wrestling.

"I'm going to miss it," Nichols said about his high school football career. "I miss it now. I've missed it the day we lost. When we lost, I felt like something was taken from me. I lived, breathed, ate and slept football. That was the only thing I could ever really think about. It was my thing and I was good at it."


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