Gateway head coach Don Militzer did much of the same when he arrived at Gateway a few months ago. Sure, he had heard plenty about Scout four-star safety Montae Nicholson before taking the Gators' head coaching job. But even he admitted the sheer size and ability of the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Class of 2014 prospect surpassed his expectations.
That's what the college coach, sporting a white polo with a Penn State emblem fixed on the breast, came to see.
Penn State safeties coach Anthony Midget was joined by Temple receivers coach and former Gateway head coach Terry Smith on the sideline for Gateway's 21-0 victory over Altoona Friday. While a host of FBS prospects dotted the turf, many an eye was trained on Nicholson.
Admittedly, it was not his best performance. The senior had his only reception of the evening called back on a hold, and his pair of tackles matched the number of personal foul flags he accrued. Afterward, with sweat still dripping from his brow, Nicholson explained that he felt Altoona defenders were taking cheap shots at him and his teammates, before making very clear that no one messes with his family.
"I didn't play my best today, but we came out and got the win. I have to work on becoming more level-headed, staying level-headed, and keeping my emotions under wraps," Nicholson said. "They were taking some cheap shots, and I'm not going to let that happen. We're a family out here.
"These are my guys," he continued. "Only I mess with them. When stuff like that happens, it irks me."
"Family" has been a common word uttered throughout Nicholson's recruitment. Not only is his mother a key part of his decision-making process, but he's often made note of looking for a family atmosphere before he takes a visit or speaks to a coaching staff.
Nicholson narrowed his lengthy list of suitors to 11 at the end of August, a list that has since shortened itself when Michigan halted its recruitment of him. A few other schools have also stopped pursuing him, he said, though he could not recall which programs did.
Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Florida State, Oregon and Penn State remain firmly on board, though. The safety visited Michigan State Sept. 7, and will be in Oakland for Pitt's clash with Virginia Sept. 28. He'll trek to Tallahassee, Fla. the next week to see the Seminoles do battle with Maryland, before taking his fourth official visit to Eugene, Ore., for the Ducks' match-up with UCLA Oct. 26.
One official remains after that, and he said he could use it to visit Penn State, though he said the trip is close enough that he may make an unofficial visit. He has also camped at PSU and been to a practice this year.
Penn State has been recruiting him hard from the beginning, something that hasn't changed in recent months. The appearance of Midget for Friday's showdown is something Nicholson said meant a lot to him, and also his teammates.
"They've been recruiting me heavy from the door, but they've been talking to me a lot more," Nicholson said of the Lions. "They are really sincere, and I've realized that a lot more. I went up to a practice [in August] and I liked what I saw.
"It means a great deal that Coach Midget was here tonight. [The team] was trying to play their butts off for coach. It definitely means a lot to me," he continued. "It makes me feel like they care a lot about me, and it's close but it's not like it's five minutes down the road, either. So it means a lot."
Pitt is a mere 20 minutes from Gateway, making it another stop Nicholson has made frequently. This time, he'll look past the football aspect, at least a little, and focus more on what the Panthers' can offer from an academic standpoint. Majoring in engineering has long been his goal, meaning discovering more than just the meat and potatoes of what the school has to offer in that field is of upmost importance.
In Eugene, Nicholson said he simply wants to find out what the Ducks' program is all about. Its distance from Gateway makes it a school he has yet to visit, which means he will leave plenty of time for exploration of the campus and football facilities.
A signing day decision is not something Nicholson envisions, but neither is one that comes before he finishes his slew of visits. Instead, he plans to announce his college choice shortly after his last of five official voyages are complete.
"The process isn't getting on my nerves, but it's winding down," he said. "Depending on how things work, it might be two weeks, three weeks or a couple of months.
"It won't be (on) signing day or even a week before signing day. I'm kind of anticipating committing."