His dad was a linebacker for the University of North Carolina. His brother is currently a linebacker for the Florida State Seminoles. Not hard to see that the apple fell straight to the ground, but this could be the best apple of the crop.
That's saying a lot, but for a young man that totaled 181 tackles, 27 for loss, got 10 sacks and intercepted 3 balls and all just as a junior, Nicholson isn't just ripe, he's a one-man bumper-crop.
Basically, he's the real deal.
If the stats don't tell you, the 37 offers he has in hand right now will. It's made for a pretty interesting recruiting season thus far. "Yeah, it's been pretty hectic." Derek said. "The phone calls, the mail, it's been a lot, but it's a blessing, because a lot of people don't get this, so I am thankful for everything that is happening right now."
You have to love the humbleness of a player that could probably get away with being anything but. For Derek though, though this experience of his is his to bear, he's got some pretty good role models in how to handle the glut of attention. "My dad went through this" Derek said of his father when he was recruited out of high school "and my brother went through this not that long ago, so it's different because it's me, but I have a pretty good place to learn from as far as what's happening around me."
It's a lot that is happening around him, but only because Nicholson is a man of action himself. Actually, that's how he describes his personality on the field, action first, second and third. Not one to talk his way through a game, he prefers to let his actions speak for what he plans to do to the offense unfortunate enough to face him. "I lead by example." Nicholson stated. "But, I want the offense to know that they aren't running the ball around me. They aren't going to throw the ball my way or it will get picked off. I want them to know that they don't want to be anywhere close to me, because I am going to stop them."
Again, point to the stats and Nicholson backs up his intentions, but personally, for a linebacker that is 6'0" and 230 lbs., 181 tackles is darn near unreal. "Ballhawk" could be considered the understatement of a lifetime. However, Derek considers it not an exclamation point, rather just his simple philosophy. No matter where the ball is, there you will find him. "I don't want there to be a single play run on offense that I am not there to finish off." he said. "Wherever the ball is, that's where I want to be. I don't ever want the other guy to think there's any place on the field safe or someplace he can run from me."
To talk to a young man that sounds almost "hyde"-like on the field, his Dr. Jekyl eloquence might surprise you. Soft-spoken and precise in his statements, it's almost the definition of dichotomy.
There's no duality here however. What you see is definitely what you get and quite honestly, it's what every school in the country wants in whatever linebacker they have.
Forget the list. Just forget it. Think of a major school, they've probably offered him. Also, don't ask Derek for a list, because it's probably just as long. In fact, Nicholson talked about how he broke down what he numbers as his current top 30 or so. "First, I looked at my dream schools." Derek said. "You know, the big-time programs with big-time traditions that are just used to winning a lot."
"After that, I went down whoever wasn't in that list that was in the top 25 last year or maybe real close to it and figured out what schools I liked in there. That gives me about 30 or so teams, but obviously I don't want to keep it that high for very long."
I doubt any would as the phone calls are many, the mail, by the pound and the attention, well it's more than what any one player or person would want to bear for the length of a football season. That's why Nicholson plans to widdle his list down a little before July and then, a little more before his season officially begins. "I am hoping to have like a top 15 by July or somewhere around there." he said. "But, I am going to try and narrow that down to five by the time the season starts."
That's a lot of widdling and a whole bunch of narrowing, but Nicholson is resolute. Not just for the convenience of having a neat and tidy five schools to look at, but as you can imagine, he plans on going out with a bang.
One last season of prep ball, some incredible stats to live up to and offers galore that make him one of the most watched high school players in the country, well, Derek knows that his last year is one more year to do what he does best. "If it's a running play, I want to be behind the line of scrimmage." he said. "If it's a 50-yard passing play, I want to be there to break it up. I don't want there to be a single play all year ran that I am not there stopping before it even gets going. That's just how I am."
Are you complaining? Didn't think so and you can bet that whatever school does end up getting Nicholson, they won't be complaining either. Probably their only complaint will be that there just aren't enough plays on the defensive side of the ball to watch Derek Nicholson do what he does best.
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619