Nov. 13, 2005
“At every crossroad on the path that leads to the future, tradition has placed 10,000 men to guard the past.”
— Maurice Maeterlinck
The Nicholson past has nothing to worry about with the guard’s protecting their gate. A.J. Nicholson, his father Darrell, and two brothers, Derek and Darrell Jr., have started a tradition not many can call their own.
Playing linebacker and bearing a respected name is a custom handed down from the hands of a loving father who did just that.
The bruising linebacker legacy began when Darrell Nicholson played at the University of North Carolina. Four years of commitment to excellence paid off when he was drafted in the sixth round by the New York Giants.
After playing one year in the NFL and having his second son, the Winston-Salem native went north to play in the Canadian Football League. The adage, `success follows successful people,’ proved true as he helped Toronto win the prestigious Grey Cup, which is the CFL’s version of the Super Bowl.
This is why the Nicholson distinction is one of monumental stature. The drive to succeed was strong because A.J.’s father was not just a mere professional football player in two countries, but a four year
letterwinner with consecutive first team All-ACC Honors and a Rookie of the Year Award winner as a collegian.
The Nicholson kids grew up in a house fueled by competition, excellence and tradition. They were a tight-knit bunch, which meant being a team. It was either come together as a whole or be powerless apart.
“We were very competitive in my household,” A.J. said. “We would strive to be No. 1, not No. 2. That’s why when we say the Nicholson tradition must go on, we mean it. We are the ultimate competitors.”
A brother’s love has a unique meaning to everyone, and to the Nicholson brothers it’s no different. The chance to play beside younger brother Derek in a stadium built to hold 80,000-plus creates a bond only a handful of people share.
Luckily enough, this is the second opportunity for the Seminole linebackers to lace up on the same field.
Mount Tabor High School in Winston-Salem, N.C., is where both A.J. and Derek did more than just play football. They lived up to a legacy.
“It’s a blessing to have him playing alongside me,” the senior linebacker said. “He played alongside me in high school. I was No. 29 and he was 39. Now I’m 54 and he is 55.”
A.J. is not only a role model to his younger brother but to the incoming freshmen and the children around the nation as well. There are kids across the country that look up to A.J. and his family for a source of inspiration and motivation.
They see the incredible feats accomplished by the senior linebacker every Saturday with dreams of one day becoming the respected football player A.J. has become.
Some feel a pressure of being looked upon as a leader but A.J. has had more practice at being a leader than the average guy. He has had a great role model in his older brother, Darrell Jr. The experience of being a leader came with guiding his two younger siblings, Derek and Natalie.
“I just try and lead by example. I’m out there trying my best, working my hardest and I expect them to do the same,” A.J. said. “Because that is how you get there, no shortcuts.”
A.J.’s career at Florida State has been nothing less than stellar. As a returning starter and three-year letterwinner, the senior linebacker started his career with a bang. In 2001, he led all freshmen in
tackles with 23. In his sophomore season, A.J. played in all 13 games and returned a fumble for a touchdown in his first career start.
Last year, as a junior, he emerged as one of the nation’s top linebackers and led the team in total tackles with 88 as well as fumble recoveries with two.
Since putting on the Garnet and Gold, he has helped the Florida State Seminoles continue to be one of the elite defenses in the country and keep the hunt for the national championship in sight.
To be successful as a team you have to play together in total synchronicity. You have to be completely cohesive and solid. You must play as a unified unit or the team will fall apart.
This teamwork and sportsmanship must not only show up during game days and practices but off the field as well. The team has to know that each individual player will support the next just like a brother would. When looking at the Seminoles, you can see each bear his own weight just fine.
“If it weren’t for these guys here, I don’t know if my experience would be as grand,” A.J. said. “We play video games, race each other and push one another every day. Doing things like that really shows out on the football field. I have to know if I get lost in a dark alley, they have my back.”
So when you hear “the Nicholson tradition must go on,” it is not a saying taken lightly around A.J. and his family. It is not said to get the family name out to the media because the Nicholson’s do that by their play on the field. It is not a slogan for people to like the Nicholson’s because they do that by their work ethic and
“The Nicholson tradition must go on,” is a life lesson. It is an instinctual custom that was started by a man who portrays the ultimate father. He does not pressure his kids into being great, he dares them. Looking at the start of this tradition, we can only hope the Nicholson tradition stays here at Florida State.
by Jon Bartek
FSU Sports Information