Oct. 1, 2008
It was a play that senior linebacker Derek
Nicholson will never forget. It was the first time
he lined up side by side with his older brother
A.J. in college as Seminole teammates. It came
during the second quarter of Florida State’s 38-
14 victory over Syracuse on Oct. 1, 2005.
The brothers lined up at linebacker with the
Seminoles already leading 14-0. As the Syracuse
quarterback took the snap and faded back to
pass, A.J. flushed him out of the pocket and Derek
was credited with the first sack of his career.
For the Nicholson’s that is how it has always
been. It’s a family thing.
“My relationship with my parents and my
bothers and sisters is very strong and we have
an incredible bond,” said Nicholson. “Being
from North Carolina and being separated from
my family has been hard for me. I talk to them
everyday. We have a very close family.”
Nicholson grew up in a large family – he is one
of three children – and grew up around football.
His father, Darrell, played alongside Lawrence
Taylor at North Carolina and in the NFL and the
CFL. The oldest Nicholson brother, Darrell, Jr.,
played at Wingate College in North Carolina and
A.J. was a star linebacker and an All-ACC Honorable
Mention player at Florida State.
Nicholson is the youngest boy and the
middle child in the three sibling family.
He has one older brother and and one younger sister.
“Outside of my relationship with God, my
family is the most important thing to me,”
said Nicholson. “If it wasn’t for them I probably
wouldn’t be playing football; if it wasn’t
for them I wouldn’t be successful because they
have molded me into the person I am today.
They have taught me to work hard in order to be
extraordinary and not just regular. They have
molded me to be successful so I give all of the
credit for who I am today to my family.
Out the complete sense of family has come
the Nicholson Tradition. It’s a motto that he
lives by; a sense of family that he carries with
“When we were kids growing up my parents
always wanted us to represent our family in the
right way,” said Nicholson. “Whether we were
in school, competing in athletics or on the playing
field, my dad always had the saying the Nicholson
Tradition must go on. It’s very important
to all of the members of our family and I have
that quote at the forefront whenever I am asked
to discuss my goals in any given situation. It
means to me that I am going to carry myself
and represent my family like I am supposed to.
It is bigger than me and one day I am going to
pass its meaning onto my children.”
Nicholson has carried the family tradition
throughout his football career and has developed
into one of the top linebackers in the ACC.
He led the Seminoles in tackles as a junior and
will look to carry on the tradition at the next
level when his Florida State career finishes at
the end of the 2008 season. He would follow
in the footsteps of his father (who played for
the New York Giants) and his brother A.J. (who
played for the Cincinnati Bengals).
Nicholson, though, almost lost his chance
to carry on the family tradition after a serious
knee injury against NC State during his sophomore
He suffered a torn ACL,
a torn MCL and a
torn meniscus in
his right knee and
missed the remainder
of the 2006
season and spring
practice in 2007.
“When I injured
my knee, it was
probably one of the
lowest points of my
career,” said Nicholson. “I couldn’t
play and I had no
control over playing
or not playing. A lot of things you
can have control over; playing time or how successful
you are in life. But after I was injured, I
had no control over being on the playing field.”
The one thing he did have control over was
how hard he was going to work to get himself
back on the field. He began his rehabilitation
almost immediately and even put in some extra
work stretching the repaired ligaments.
“I had a very tough time coming back from
the injury,” said Nicholson. “I didn’t know if
I was ever going to be the same person and I
didn’t know if I could play as well as I was going
to play. At first, to be honest with you, I didn’t
know if I’d ever play again,”
Though he didn’t play up to his standards
in 2007, Nicholson returned to the playing
field and led the Seminoles in tackles and was
ranked among the ACC’s top 15 in tackles per
game. He was the only Seminole linebacker
to start all 13 games including Florida State’s
season opener against Clemson which came less
than 10 months after his injury. Most players
take a year or more to return to the field after
suffering such a devastating injury.
“Derek Nicholson is very intelligent,
very instinctive and a natural linebacker,” said executive
head coach Chuck Amato.
“He has great vision. He led our
team in tackles – he is always
around the football. He gets us
directed and he’s the guy that
sets the tone out there.”
“I had my surgery in November,
and it wasn’t like I could rehab a couple of
months here and a couple of months there,”
said Nicholson. “Literally, for me to get back
to where I wanted to be it took me about a year
and a half. It was tough but I made it through.”
Nicholson believes that things happen for
a reason and firmly believes that was the case
with his injury.
“There are certain circumstances in your life
that force you to focus on things that you might
have been taking for granted,” said Nicholson.
It might be your relationship with your family or
your approach to academics or taking football
for granted. Looking back on my injury, I now
know that things like football can be taken away
from you at any time.”
Because of Derek Nicholson, the Nicholson
Tradition will live on.
By Chuck Walsh Associate Sports Information Director