As a true freshman, Nicol was on the field for the first play of the Michigan game. The Wolverines won the toss and deferred, and Nicol was on the kick coverage team. Although the opening kickoff went for a touchback, there was plenty of contact in Nicol's case.
Now a fifth-year senior, Nicol said he learned on that play that when players say the Ohio State-Michigan game is the hardest-hitting game of the year, they are not lying.
"I never believed it either until I was a freshman and Ernest Shazor knocked me into the third week of my junior year," Nicol said. "On our first kickoff return, he hit me harder than I've ever been hit in my life."
Nicol said he was setting up the wedge on the unit when he saw Shazor coming. He has never been hit that hard or delivered such a hit since, he said.
"I was OK," he said. "I walked off the field, but I realized at that moment how serious the hitting was in the Ohio State-Michigan game."
Senior linebacker Marcus Freeman compared it to being in a car accident.
"I just remember waking up the next Sunday after the Michigan game and realizing, ‘Did I get in a car wreck, or what happened to my body?' " he said. "That's the good thing. It's the last game of the year and you finally get a couple weeks of break. But it's a game that you have to put it all on the line because the next day you're going to wake up and feeling hurt."
A rare voice of dissent, senior cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said the hardest he has ever been hit was not in a game against the Wolverines.
"It was versus Texas in 2005," he said. "I got hit running down on a kickoff and about five minutes later I was coughing up blood on the sideline."
Pryor And Taunting: As he headed to the locker room following OSU's victory against Illinois, freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor engaged in some back-and-forth with the Fighting Illini student section. Afterward, Pryor told reporters that he enjoys both taunting and being taunted, adding that it's all part of the game.
At his lone press conference prior to the Michigan game, head coach Jim Tressel said he was not familiar with the situation until a reporter mentioned it to him.
"He loves to compete and he loves people questioning whether he can get something done or not, but is that always the best thing to communicate back and forth? Not always, but you don't know what was said, you don't know if it's good natured or whatever it happens to be," Tressel said. "But (I) didn't really see it, didn't even hear of it until you just said that."
Senior captain James Laurinaitis echoed Tressel's ignorance of the situation, saying he was not exactly sure what had been said.
"Terrelle is a guy who's extremely passionate, and when you're in an environment like that it also depends on what's coming out of his mouth," Laurinaitis said. "It depends if he's waving and saying, ‘Thank you,' saying we won, being respectful coming back.
"It's fun to play on the road when you have opportunities where everyone's against you and you feel like it's your team against everybody. But in that situation you just want to take care of business and go off the field."
Nicol said Pryor is a generally quiet guy in the locker room, but added that he has a swagger about him.
"He's not really a big talker," Nicol said. "Amongst the team he's not really a big talking, bragging type of guy. He just goes to work and he's proven a lot of people wrong throughout the season."
Let's Jump: Thursday night before the Michigan game, OSU students make an annual pilgrimage to Mirror Lake. There, to invoke the spirit of former coach Woody Hayes, they plunge themselves into the lake to help guarantee victory on Saturday.
Tressel said someone would have to shoot him and toss him in the lake for him to take part in the tradition. His players have an appreciation for the tradition, even if they draw the line at actually leaping into the lake themselves.
"I was there one time my freshman year and it was crazy," Nicol said. "I'd never do that in my life. Never. My first year in school. I just went down. I looked, I went back to my room and I was in bed before 10."
His reasoning behind not jumping is simple.
"I just never could imagine what it would be like to tell Tress, ‘I hurt my ankle jumping into Mirror Lake,' " Nicol said. "If I wasn't on the team, I'd do it."
Senior kicker Ryan Pretorius said his father planned on taking part in this year's jump.
"One of my ex-roommates bought a wet suit just so he could jump in, wore it, jumped in, then cleaned it off and took it back," he said. "It's nuts, and I think my dad's going to be jumping in this year."
Pretorius then echoed Nicol's comments about being in bed by 10 p.m. Both said they might take part in the future, however.
"I'm almost 30 now, but I feel like I'm 18 years old," Pretorius said. "I'd love to come back here and jump in."
"I can still jump in the lake when I'm 50, right? Get drunk and jump in there," Nicol said with a laugh.
Golden Teeth? A common topic broached with the Buckeyes this week has been what each player has done with his gold pants earned by beating Michigan. OSU tradition dictates that players give their first pair to their mother for good luck, but after that all bets are off.
Pretorius followed that tradition and gave his first pair to his mother, Terry. When she received them, though, his father was a bit confused.
"My dad's a dentist and the first time I gave them to her they looked at them and said, ‘Are these molars?' because they kind of look like teeth," Pretorius said.