Photo courtesy of Matt Radick of The State News via Flickr Creative Commons
By Adam Biggers
Keith Nichol's career at Michigan State could be summed up with two words: Hustle and sacrifice. Now, after a three-year career with the Spartans, Nichol is looking to continue his playing days as a pro by working out at Bommarito Performance Systems in Miami.
He plans to make any necessary adaptations in order to fit into a professional team's designs. And If all goes as envisioned, Nichol will be playing Sundays.
His physical tools, intelligent play and willingness to succeed under pressure are characteristics that will likely garner attention from NFL scouts. Nichol's next stop is Michigan State's Pro Day on March 14, when he'll join five other former Spartans who aspire to make it to the next level.
Making the switch…
Nichol, a former four-star recruit out of Lowell High, began his collegiate days with the Oklahoma Sooners. But after a year in Norman, Nichol decided to return to Michigan State, the program he initially committed to and finish his eligibility.
Nichol backed-up former Sooners star quarterback Sam Bradford, who won the 2008 Heisman Trophy as NCAA football's elite performer. Upon his arrival to East Lansing, many thought Nichol would be a shoo-in for the starting job with the Spartans, but after a "healthy competition" with Kirk Cousins, Nichol was relegated to the No. 2 role.
That move didn't stall Nichol, who was offered a position switch to wide receiver, a role he had never played in college. A competitor eager to contribute in any way possible, Nichol accepted the offer after a meeting with Spartans coach Mark Dantonio.
"There was a huge void there at wide receiver, I think, on scholarship," Nichol said. "It was Keshawn Martin and Blair White, that's it, I think. Coach Dantonio knew I was anxious to get out there and play…
"I sat in his office one time; we talked about playing wide receiver. I told him, I was just so anxious to get back out there and play on the field."
Nichol, who regained his health after suffering a dislocated elbow against Illinois in 2009, paused for a moment, laughed, and said "He (Dantonio) could have made me punter."
Players make plays…
Of course, Nichol will forever be remembered for his . But he'll also be remembered for his athleticism. Nichol joked and said that Spartans defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi once approached him about playing safety. At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, Nichol could have fit in at several slots.
He thrives on accepting challenges and conquering them. Moving to a new position was just part of the process, Nichol said.
Nichol said he feels like he's been playing wide receiver for quite some time and that he's his own worst critic. He tries to focus on the details in order to perfect his craft—whether it's running crisper routes or working on agility, Nichol is always testing his limits.
"At the next level, you're going up against the best of the best," Nichol said confidently. "You can't slip up."
Adapting to new surroundings and circumstances…
Unfortunately for Nichol, he wasn't invited to the 2012 NFL Combine in Indianapolis, which begins Wednesday. But, he will participate in Michigan State's Pro Day on March 14. For Nichol, getting the chance to prove his self, yet again, is something he looks forward to. He may or may not be a wide receiver in the NFL, should he make it that far.
But he's willing to adapt.
"I think the constant theme that I keep hearing is that my versatility will be my biggest attribute, or tool—my toughness and willingness to do anything," Nichol said. "There will be a (pro) team that will fall in love with that.
"Some teams want that freak (Detroit Lions wide receiver) Calvin Johnson guy, some teams want a guy to run the systems."
Nichol showed for three years at Michigan State that he could flourish under nearly any circumstance. Now, his next step is to prove to NFL scouts that he's capable of doing the same at the highest level.
"All these scouts, GMs, they want a reason why not to draft you," Nichol said. "You can't give them a reason not to. You have to go out there and look perfect in what you do—come over-prepared. That's the mentality I've been having the whole time. It's nerve-racking, but at the same time, it's just another day at the office. You have to treat yourself like a pro.
"I'm looking forward to the opportunity to perform."
Chasing a worthy cause…
Nichol was reluctant to disclose the names of teams that have shown interest. He didn't want to get ahead of himself. But if there wasn't a chance to play in the NFL, Nichol would likely be using his degree he earned from Michigan State in supply chain management.
He has more football to play, and working his in chosen field can wait, he jokingly said.
"I'm going after it," Nichol said of his NFL aspirations. "I'm not the type of guy who would string out the dream (if there was no chance to play in the NFL)."
Stay tuned for more on Nichol's journey to the NFL, as he's agreed to keep Adam Biggers informed on the most recent news during the course.