At 6-foot-2 and 209 pounds, Montae Nicholson, bottom, is built to play safety, and he'll have a decent shot to contribute there right away. But he's also got the athleticism to play at corner and on the offensive side of the ball as well. (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)
East Lansing — For most freshman, preseason camp can be a blur.
From adjusting to a completely new level of competition to simply finding out where the dorms are, sometimes first-year players feel their heads spinning.
For Michigan State’s Montae Nicholson, it’s getting ramped up a bit because the player recruited as a safety is busy not only learning that position as well as cornerback, he’s taking some reps as a receiver.
“The coaches told me defense first and then offense, once I pick up the defense,” Nicholson said after his first practice in full pads this week. “I’m mainly defense right now and trying to learn everything, but I think I’m picking it up pretty well. I’ve talked to (receivers coach Terrence) Samuel and he’s been giving me some routes and some plays, and I've been studying those as well.”
At 6-foot-2 and 209 pounds, Nicholson is built to play safety, and he’ll have a decent shot to contribute there right away. But he’s also got the athleticism to play at corner and on the offensive side of the ball as well.
As a senior at Gateway High in Monroeville, Pa., Nicholson recorded 72 tackles, three interceptions and four fumble recoveries while scoring a pair of touchdowns. As a receiver, he had 41 catches for 810 yards and 11 touchdowns.
He played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and is now getting the attention of coach Mark Dantonio, who has singled Nicholson out at couple of times already in the first week of practice.
“He’s an exciting player to watch, very gifted physically,” Dantonio said. “(He has) to sustain, know what to do and play at a high rate of speed every time. Sometimes those things catch up to a young player on the field. That’s our job to try to get him ready by game time, but it’s very early in the process.”
And Nicholson, who considered Florida State and Pittsburgh before deciding to come to Michigan State, is using every resource he can, including his veteran teammates.
“I’m just trying to get coached up and do my best,” he said, “trying to take in everything as it comes. Kurtis Drummond is my roommate, and sometimes I just ask him random questions when I’m looking through the playbook.”
And while Nicholson has shown flashes to play both defense and offense, he also understands it could be special teams that are his ticket to the field as a true freshman.
He’s used to that after returning a pair of kicks for touchdowns in his final season in high school and said he does like to “run and hit people.”
But ultimately, the decision whether he plays and where he plays will be out of his hands. In the meantime, he’ll give them every reason to put him on the field.
“I believe once I get everything down, the technique down,” he said, “it’s on the coaches.”