Duffy Daugherty Football Building
East Lansing, MI
When you do what I do for a living, covering one school every single day, you learn a lot. Some players are great communicators, some are not. Some are good people some aren’t. Just like any part of society you get to see it all.
Since I first got to know Montae Nicholson when he was back in high school, he has been one of my favorite people as both a player and person. The Spartan junior safety from Monroeville, PA is warm, has a smile that can light up the darkest room and works hard on and off the field. He is what coaches want in a young person and father’s want in a son.
Last year was tough. He played early at a high level but he struggled with confidence after some unfortunate mistakes in the heart of the season. But not one to quit or pout he came on strong the last third of the year and played at a very high level. This off season he has done nothing to lose that edge and the Spartans star has grown into his role as an upper classmen and leader for the Spartans.
I asked him about now being one of the older guys on a young, ferocious and hungry Spartan defense and he told me, “My coaches don’t let me forget it or my teammates or my parents. I think that is going to help me a great deal when I am out there on the field making calls. Having the confidence to make a call, play it out and just play.”
Even his head coach Mark Dantonio can see the edge that Nicholson is bringing this spring. “Going into his third year and he is a tremendous athlete. He is a big guy and his game needs to get better and better and better and those are his expectations. You notice number nine out there.”
While watching practice this spring he stood out to me as he barked encouragement to his younger teammates and even gave some orders to get some guys in the right spot. So is that the fruit of the momentum that started late last year Montae?
“It is just that confidence that I was struggling with last year in the middle of the season and I found it in the last part of the season. Just trying to have a rollover into the spring and continue throughout the summer and go in to next season.”
So now that he is no longer one of the young guys on the Spartan team, but an older leader have any of the young players stood out to Nicholson? Always one to praise his smile crossed his face from ear to ear as he started to brag on some key freshman newcomers.
“Kenny Lyke. Our defense isn’t the easiest to pick up on. He’s picking up on it better than I did. On offense Donnie Corley and Cam Chambers easily. I have been here for a while and they are making me better. They are fast guys, great hands and I think they can be impact guys for us early. “
He went on to brag about true sophomores Grayson Miller and Khari Willis. Two burgeoning safeties that both picked up significant playing time last year.
“To say the least we are loaded at safety. Grayson (Miller), Khari Willis started a few games last year. We have depth and everybody is going to play. It would be an injustice to not have them play because of their talent and their ability. Our defensive backs as a whole are going to go to the next level.”
When Vayante Copeland went down last year vs. Oregon with a horrific neck injury I was struck by the compassion felt by Nicholson. With today’s modern athlete not many want to show a gentle heart. Watching his friend and fellow dawg go down moved him. No one was excited about the injury, but Nicholson was heartbroken.
So what is it like to see him back in practice hitting and being able to go all out? Nicholson’s infectious smile flashed again as he said, “I was probably happier than he was. Just having him back, he is another impact player for us. He is going to make huge plays for us. I already know that he is. Just the type of person he is on and off the field. He is going to do some damage this year.”
Nicholson has NFL talent. More importantly he is an All Pro person. In the classroom, on the field and in the community Nicholson is what you want in a student athlete. The Spartans will benefit from his confidence and maturity, but they’ve never worried about his character. Montae is a terrific football player, but an even better young man. It’s good to see the smile, the confidence and the leadership we saw in high school back.
Look out Big Ten, the Montae Nicholson the Spartans thought he could be has entered the phone booth and he is ready to fly in 2016. A thought that will put the Montae smile on Spartan Nation’s face and fear on his opponent’s demeanor.