Nichols makes impact on and off field
All-star defensive back even better in second season with Bombers
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Deatrick Nichols didn’t become one of the top corners in the CFL by playing for himself.
For the second-year Winnipeg Blue Bomber, one of the things that has always kept pushing him is the memory of his former University of South Florida teammate, Elkino Watson.
It was early in the morning on Sept. 6, 2015, when Watson, a defensive lineman at USF from 2011-14 , was stabbed to death outside of a nightclub in Tampa. Watson was only 23.
Nichols was a freshman in 2014 when Watson was in his final year, but the two defenders both came from Miami and shared a close bond.
“Our families were close to each other. He was just a big brother to me,” Nichols, 28, told the Free Press after Tuesday’s practice at IG Field.
“…Unfortunately, something happened on that night. But I always keep him in mind. Things like that and guys like that give you another reason that when you’re out there, you don’t take nothing for granted and you play for the guys that can’t.”
Nichols was part of a group of friends that started the BelieveInMe Foundation which was organized to honour the life of Watson and help Miami youth. They’re hosting their fourth annual fundraiser next month on July 2, which would’ve been Watson’s 30th birthday. The non-profit organization promotes the importance of education, violence prevention, health and wellness, and community service.
“We just want to keep his name alive and bring the kids, the families, and the community together,” Nichols said.
Nichols is also making an impact in Winnipeg with the Bombers. He made the team out of training camp last season and went on to become a league all-star. Through two weeks this season, Nichols looks just as good, if not better, as he was arguably the most impressive player in blue and gold in last Friday’s 19-12 road victory over the Ottawa Redblacks with six tackles and three pass knockdowns.
“It’s crazy that he’s taken another step. I think Deatrick was already the best DB in the league last year,” said Bombers veteran defensive back Nick Taylor.
“So, for him to take another step, it just shows that he’s getting better and better. He’s more vocal, he’s helping the group out, leading by example, and brings energy every day. He’s a guy that we follow and look up to. He gets us going a lot of times… We’re just glad to have a guy like that.”
Before landing in the three-down league, Nichols bounced around the professional football world. He played a pair of regular season games for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted free agent in 2018, but was released at the end of training camp the following year. From there, Nichols signed with the Houston Roughnecks of the XFL and led the league in interceptions before the pandemic shut down the whole operation. His strong play in the XFL earned him looks from the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins, but ultimately Nichols ended up signing with the Bombers.
They’re certainly glad he did. And Nichols likely won’t be going anywhere any time soon as the club has the 5-9 halfback under contract through 2023.
“I think it’s hard to find one or two words that sum him up. You can talk for quite some time about how good he is, how good he is for his teammates, what he means to the defence, and what he means to the team,” head coach Mike O’Shea said Tuesday.
“He’s one helluva football player and once again, he makes the guys around him better.”
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats won’t be happy to see Nichols Friday night at IG Field when they take on the Bombers in Week 3 action. Nichols made two of the biggest plays of the 108th Grey Cup as he broke up a pass in the endzone in the final seconds of the fourth quarter that forced the Ticats to settle for a field goal to tie the game at 25-25. Nichols also helped seal the deal in overtime when Jeremiah Masoli’s pass deflected off of his hands before it eventually landed in the lap of linebacker Kyrie Wilson to give the Bombers a 33-25 win and the silver mug.
It’s a tough act for Nichols to follow this year, but he’s not concerned with that.
“It’s all about how those guys in the locker room feel about me. That’s all I care about,” Nichols said.
“And just winning. That’s the No. 1 goal, to win. Whoever gets the credit, gets the credit. But if you win, people are going to get their personal goals, but the main focus is winning.”
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...
Updated on Wednesday, June 22, 2022 9:53 AM CDT: Changes to halfback from corner