Vols in hunt for top LB

The ink is scarcely dry on the scholarships signed by UT's 2004 football recruits, yet Vol staffers are already pursuing a top linebacker for the Class of 2005.

He is Derek Nicholson, a 6-1, 230-pound linebacker who will be one the country's most sought-after recruits next fall as a senior at Mt. Tabor High of Winston-Salem, N.C. Some believe he'll be even better than older brother A.J., who starred last fall as a second-year player at Florida State.

''I've seen A.J.'s film from high school and I've seen Derek play live twice,'' The Insiders.com's Miller Safrit told Dave Peters of TheTerritory.org. ''I think Derek might be smaller than his brother but he might have more potential. His strengths are his instincts and his ability to easily shed blocks and make tackles. Derek's lower body build is one of the best I've seen in quite some time.''

Nicholson already has been offered scholarships by seven colleges -- Tennessee, Mississippi State, Clemson, Wake Forest, Duke, North Carolina and North Carolina State. He also has gotten letters from Notre Dame and Miami, among others.

''I wide open now,'' Nicholson said. ''Distance will not be a factor with me. I'll probably narrow a top five list down after my senior football season. North Carolina was my favorite team growing up because my father played there. When my brother signed with Florida State I became neutral.''

What does he like about the Tar Heels and Seminoles?

''I grew up a fan of North Carolina,'' he said. ''It's close to home, and it looks like they need a lot of help soon. I think they have a good coaching staff, also. I've probably been there unofficially four or five times but I've been to Florida State a lot more. I've seen a lot of Florida State lately and I know a lot about them. I would love a chance to play with my brother. We played together in high school. Florida State linebacker Coach Steele is a nice, down to earth man. A.J. speaks highly of him. Florida State will be in my top three at the end.''

Although he appears to be leaning heavily to FSU, Nicholson says his ultimate college choice must meet specific requirements.

''Being comfortable will be a factor,'' he said. ''I'm looking for a place that I will have an opportunity to make an early impact. Going to a school with a winning tradition is important, and distance won't matter. The place I'm looking for will feel like a home away from home. The school will have to have a good coaching staff also.''

As a junior Nicholson recorded 181 tackles, 27 TFL and 10 sacks. He has a 3.8 grade point average with a score of 19 on the ACT.

Asked to describe his style of play, he replied: ''I'm a little old school like Dick Butkus with aggressiveness and a little new school like Ray Lewis.''

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