The Fifth Captain

Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel asks a lot out of his seniors, and many respond with career years. This year, tight end Rory Nicol has emerged for the coaching staff, but his presence has been felt more off of the field than on it.

If you look at Ohio State's weekly football press release, you will see that the Buckeyes have four senior captains. Todd Boeckman, Malcolm Jenkins, James Laurinaitis and Brian Robiskie were voted as captains during fall camp, and each is looked upon as a model and spokesperson for the team.

That press release does not tell the complete story, however. If it did, it would likely list tight end Rory Nicol among those team captains regardless of what the final voting results were.

The senior from Beaver, Pa., was not voted a team captain by his teammates. The same day those captains were announced, tight ends coach John Peterson had a few words of wisdom for Nicol.

"I told him right when the captains were elected and announced, ‘Hey, just because you didn't get a vote or whatever doesn't mean you don't lead,' " Peterson said. "That's real. You don't have to be president to lead."

The philosophy was borrowed from author John Maxwell, and it clearly struck a chord with Nicol. Although his impact on the field this season has been limited in an offense that rarely throws to the tight end and hampered by a mid-season injury that caused him to miss three games, Nicol has established himself as a leader on the team.

He's just one that does not go out for the coin toss before each game.

"I think Rory Nicol has gone a good job of preparing for his senior year," OSU head coach Jim Tressel said. "His preparation in the offseason was extraordinary. His preparation in the preseason was tremendous. He's a leader, not just because he's a senior but that's just the way he does things. He's not afraid to step up."

The 6-5, 252-pound Nicol proved as such in the week following the team's 16-3 victory against Purdue on Oct. 11. The Buckeyes improved to 6-1 overall and 3-0 within the Big Ten, but they did so without scoring an offensive touchdown.

Although he could only watch from the sidelines as he nursed an ankle injury, Nicol took matters into his own hands the following night and called a meeting of the team's linemen. Behind closed doors, Nicol challenged his teammates to look at themselves in the mirror and re-commit themselves to up their level of play.

The next time on the field, the Buckeyes put up 45 points on the road against Michigan State in a lopsided victory. At the time, his teammates on the offensive line credited Nicol for stepping up and delivering a message that needed to be delivered.

That ability to be a spokesman for his team has not gone unnoticed by the coaching staff. During the team's lone day of player interviews before the Illinois game, five players were made available: three of the team's captains minus Boeckman, senior kicker Ryan Pretorius and Nicol.

But despite his de facto status as a team leader, Nicol denied being akin to an extra team captain.

"We have four other captains that represent this group of seniors and the team," he said. "I've always taken it pretty serious. I would've loved to be a captain. What a great honor for those guys. But I've always tried to be a leader. I guess maybe some of the hard work is paying off a little bit."

That is not always reflected on the statistics sheet. This season, Nicol has six catches for 60 yards and two touchdowns and has been named the team's offensive player of the week (Youngstown State) and offensive lineman of the week (Northwestern). Entering the season, he had 32 career catches for 269 yards and four scores.

Peterson said it is Nicol's attention to detail that helps him be an inspiration to his teammates. The coach said he plans to ask Nicol for copies of his notes from meetings throughout his career so he can show them to future players as an example of how to be dedicated to the program.

"He's had the kind of year and career that I want to say to young guys, ‘Here's a guy who played tight end and here's his notes that he took in every meeting and every film session when he was by himself. This is attention to detail that he had,' " Peterson said. "That's been a pleasure to be around."

Nicol has also been keenly aware of the fact that time is slowly but surely running out on his OSU career. With just a few weeks left in the regular season, Nicol knew how many practices were left on the schedule.

Between now and then, he will continue to pass on what he has learned at the behest of his coaches.

"I've played a ton of football here and been in a lot of games," he said. "I think maybe the experience is something they knew I could help other guys with in certain situations. They challenged me to understand that I am a leader and guys will look up to me."

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