Seminoles React to Nicholson's Loss

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Florida State lost arguably its best defensive player when senior outside linebacker A.J. Nicholson was suspended after being accused of sexually assaulting a woman at the Seminoles' team hotel. Players called the loss "devastating" personally, and it will also have a ripple effect on a defense that must find a way to contain Michael Robinson in Tuesday's Orange Bowl showdown with Penn State.

Hear LB Ernie Sims Talk About A.J. Nicholson's Situation.

But is Nicholson irreplaceable? Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews isn't so sure.

“What this presents is a challenge for someone else to step in and take over,” Andrews said Friday morning. “We've had to do that during the year.”

Have they ever. The Seminoles have faced all kinds of personnel upheaval this season, both on offense and defense. The injuries began with the loss of All-America cornerback Antonio Cromartie during preseason practice and continued through the Atlantic Coast Conference title game in which linebacker Marcello Church broke his leg. While the Seminoles haven't exactly come away unscathed — their four losses make this the program's losingest regular season since 2001 — they have persevered.

“We've lost a total of six starters during the year or prior to the season,” Andrews said. “We lost a cornerback who would have been a premiere player for us. We lost a starting defensive tackle in the summer. We got into the fall and we lost two defensive ends at different times, had a linebacker break his leg and a cornerback hurt his knee. … We've not had the total depth that we've had in years past.”

Nicholson has been the Seminoles' leading tackler each of the past two seasons. He had 100 tackles in 2005, earning second-team All-ACC notice and making the Butkus Award semifinals.

With Nicholson gone, Florida State will reshuffle its linebackers. Junior Buster Davis is expected to move from middle linebacker, where he has started the past 23 games, to Nicholson's weakside position.

“I haven't played much 'will' but I've played enough to know what I'm doing out there,” Davis said. “This whole week is going to be honing in on playing that position and getting the quirks out that I need to work out.”

True freshmen Geno Hayes will back up Davis at outside linebacker. Junior Sam McGrew is listed as the backup at middle linebacker and figures to receive a promotion with Davis vacating the position. McGrew's backup will likely be true freshman Derek Nicholson, A.J. Nicholson's younger brother.

Strongside linebacker Ernie Simms said he was dismayed when he learned Thursday morning of Nicholson's dismissal, which occurred after a 19-year-old woman told police that a Florida State player, later identified as Nicholson, had assaulted her at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood, Fla.

“I could feel what he was feeling,” Simms said. “I was shocked, I was in disbelief. I just felt real, real bad.”

Simms said he talked to a sullen Nicholson later Thursday. “I told him I was 100 percent behind him and that I'd be praying for him,” he said.

Like his players, Andrews was jolted by the news.

“You don't take someone out of your family and have it not bother you,” he said. “But will it keep us from moving forward? No. It just made things a little more difficult. It's like someone getting hurt on the first play of the ballgame. He's not there, so someone else will have to step up and take his place. That's not being callous. Coach [Bobby] Bowden just has a way of treating facts as facts. We lost our starting weakside linebacker and somebody has to take his place.”

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