Say hello to: A.J. Nicholson

The highly-touted linebacker from Winston-Salem, N.C., makes it perfectly clear -- he wants to contribute this season. Nicholson certainly has the credentials, earning numerous national honors and finishing with 317 tackles during his junior and senior seasons. It's no suprise that Nicholson loves all sports. The big fella even boxed a little and is a self-proclaimed world champion in video games. "I am the best ever, but I know I have to prove myself in Florida," he said and grinned.

Better flex those thumbs.

A.J. Nicholson is a self-proclaimed world champion in PlayStation 2003 football video games. Okay, Nicholson admits he might not be the champion of the entire globe, but he's certainly undefeated in his home state of North Carolina.

And that's a pretty big patch of real estate.

"I am the best ever, but I know I have to prove myself in Florida," Nicholson said as a wide grin spread across his face. "I don't know (kind of competition) they have here, but I am looking forward to doing it all. I am ready for anything anyone has."

Of course, FSU coaches and fans also are eager to see Nicholson perform with similar gusto on the real football field. Ranked as No. 3 linebacker in the nation last year, the personable and polite Nicholson helps anchor the Seminoles' prized recruiting class, which reports Monday and signals the start of the upcoming football season.

Nicholson is one of four linebackers inked by the Seminoles, joining Nate Hardage, Sam McGrew and Buster Davis. While Hardage, a junior-college transfer, enrolled at FSU in January, he missed spring drills after suffering a partially torn Achilles tendon. Hardage has participated in strength and conditioning drills this summer and says he wll be fine for the start of drills.

The quartet is expected to be given every opportunity to contribute, especially at middle linebacker, where depth remains a concern. Senior Jerel Hudson, who is working hard to lose weight, is backed by Robert May and Hardage. May played sparingly last season after transferring from junior college. And, as previously mentioned, Hardage is unproven after missing spring practice.

The 6-2, 232-pound Nicholson says point-blank that he does not want to redshirt this season. No wonder. He had 147 tackles as a senior and 170 as a junior, including 23 for losses. Named a Parade All-American, among other national awards and honors, Nicholson selected the Seminoles over Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida and Texas.

"I am every excited, very eager to get started," Nicholson said following Thursday's conditioning workout on the practice field.

"We know we are going to have a good team this year, a good recruiting class. I am just looking forward to everything. They (veterans) tell you we have to work hard. Hard work always pays off. I am out here working hard. A lot of seniors and juniors are showing some big leadership towards me, and I am just ready for whatever happens."

It will start happening in a hurry for incoming recruits, too. That's why Nicholson arrived in town nearly two weeks ago in an effort to get acclimated to the Sunshine State's overbearing heat, as well as to meet his teammates.

It's something I am not used to back in North Carolina, especially that first day," Nicholson said of the heat. "But it feels fine. It feels lovely out here, just lovely (laughing). I am just trying to better myself. My goal, first of all is to give praise to the Lord. I can do this (play football) and give praise to the Lord. Second of all, I just want to accomplish everything I've set for myself, so when it does come true I can tell everybody that you can accomplish your goals. I am looking forward to it."

Nicholson enjoyed most sports while growing up in Winston-Salem. However, baseball was the exception, saying it "was just too slow for me. I played T-ball then gave it up." In addition to basketball, soccer and wrestling, Nicholson also tried a little neighborhood boxing.

"Not like Golden Gloves or anything," Nicholson said. "I bought my own set of gloves and started boxing with my brothers. In the front yard. In the street. But I loved all sports."

Since arriving in town, Nicholson has focused on preparing for the upcoming season. He said it was difficult to watch the Seminoles struggle to an 8-4 season last year. As far as his game is concerned - we are not talking video games here -- Nicholson said it's built on aggressiveness and speed, two qualities he hopes will earn him playing time.

"I knew it had it (winning) in them, but the team didn't click," Nicholson said.

"Eight-and-four is a good record. But for Florida State, that's not that good of a record. We have good coaches, good players, a good foundation. So, I know everything is going to grow. That's one of the main reasons I came here because I have seen their (teammates) relationships towards each other. Again, I am just looking forward to be playing out there with them. It's an honor to be in the Garnet and Gold.

"And that's another reason why I came here - I can see myself making an early impact, playing on defense, doing my part. My game is about being aggressive. Speed. Hard working. Every play I am giving it my all. It's all in this field. I just love the atmosphere of it."

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