As a junior Nicholson led the Spartans to the state 4A championship game, losing to Greenville (NC) Rose in the Finals. He finished the season with 181 tackles, 27 TFL, and 3 interceptions, leading to all-conference, all-area, and all-state honors.
On his way through the playoffs Nicholson encountered several amazing talents, including NC State signee Andre Brown (Greenville Rose), who defeated Derek and Mt. Tabor to win the state championship.
"Well, Andre Brown was a good player and (Cedric) Hickman was a good player," he said. "The running back from Davie County was good too. I played against some pretty good players this year, and I think I did good against them."
Nicholson did better then "good." Some consider the rising senior North Carolina's top linebacker prospect and a consensus top five player in the class of 2005. His stellar play has led to early offers from some of the nation's top college programs.
"I already have offers from Florida, Florida State, Wake, Tennessee, NC State, North Carolina, Clemson, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Penn State, Mississippi State, and Georgia. I sent out film to all those schools and they have offered me a scholarships."
At the moment, Derek's not ready to name a leader or top five list, pointing out that he's wide open and considering any school that shows attention.
"I don't have a top five or any favorites. No schools standout and everybody's equal right now."
Derek is not the only star linebacker in the family. His father, Daryl, played linebacker at the University of North Carolina, while his brother, A.J., is a starting linebacker for the Florida State Seminoles. Some consider North Carolina and Florida State the early leaders for Derek because of these ties, but according to him, that's not the case.
"Not really. People mention it and seem to think that because A.J.'s down there that I'll go to Florida State or because my dad played at North Carolina that I may go there, but it's really not like that. I'm wide open and open-minded about where I'm going to school and where I can spend the next four or five years of my life at."
Because his brother plays football for FSU, Nicholson has been able to take several unofficial visits over the past couple of years. One game he remembers attending is Florida State vs. NC State at Raleigh in 2002, when the Wolfpack knocked off the Seminoles while on their way to the Gator Bowl.
"The atmosphere was crazy. It was exciting. They rushed the field and it was a sea of red everywhere. It was hyped up... I remember that."
So what does Derek like about the NC State Wolfpack?
"They are a team on the rise. They have a great coaching staff and it seems like a very family-oriented atmosphere to go and play football in. It seems like they are coming up and is a program headed for big-time football status."
Don't expect an early decision from this star linebacker. With all the recruiting attention that he'll receive, look for Nicholson to attend summer camps, fall football games, and take all his official visits before making a decision.
"I plan on taking all my visits before making a decision," he told StateFans.
Clearly, Derek Nicholson is a prospect to watch in the Class of 2005, and could be another major recruiting battle between NC State, North Carolina, and Florida State.