Deiontae Nicholas back for last hurrah, seeks to lift Wayne State from doldrums

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Injuries limited running back Deiontae Nicholas to 89 yards on seven carries last season.

Detroit — Sometimes the hardest part of football is figuring out when to let it go.

After injuries limited him to playing in only seven games in the past two seasons, that time seemed to be drawing nigh for Wayne State’s Deiontae Nicholas.

Nicholas was a redshirt senior and after a productive five years, he was poised to hang up his cleats for the final time, after an injury in the third game ended his year.

Not quite.

“After (the injury) happened, for the next two or three months, I was convinced that it was my last year and I was done,” Nicholas said. “Thoughts kept creeping back and things like getting accepted into grad school and teammates talking about our season not going well and next year being better.

“Being around the team the rest of the season motivated me to give it another shot.”

Nicholas got a medical waiver for a sixth year of eligibility and gets another shot to help Wayne State improve of its dismal 2-9 finish last season. In some ways, the sour taste from a poor showing helped motivate Nicholas to give it another shot.

“I can’t even lie — (last season) was a part of it. I just want to help Wayne State be on top, for this team and all the guys I’ve learned from in my years here,” he said. “I just want people to remember Wayne State in a better light than we did last year.”

Nicholas got another honor last weekend, as he was named one of five captains for this season. He becomes only the third three-time captain in school history, along with Nick Thomas (2010-12) and Leo Wells (2003-05).

He’s part of another important trio, with seniors James Hill and DeOntay Moffett, forming a potent backfield. Hill had a breakout season with 831 yards and 10 touchdowns and Moffett 508 yards and nine touchdowns. Adding Nicholas back in to that mix could give the Warriors one of the best stables of backs in the conference.

Where Nicholas sets himself apart is his versatility in being able to split out or play in the slot as a receiver. He’s also an adept return man on special teams, which adds to his responsibilities and effectiveness.

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“There’s so much proven (backfield) talent, guys who have obviously had great careers,” coach Paul Winters said. “From the time of his injury until now, (Nicholas) hasn’t had any contact; we’re hoping he’ll be healthy and fully healed this time.

“When he gets the ball, he averages over 10 yards per touch — and not many people in the country can say that. He’d arguably be the best football player in the league the last couple years if he stayed healthy. We’re excited to have him back.”

Having so much experience in the backfield, can sometimes be a problem, with infighting among the backs to figure out who gets the bulk of the carries or sabotaging each other to get more playing time.

That’s not the case with the Wayne State trio.

They’re more supportive and try to complement each other’s strengths, with Hill as the straight-ahead runner, at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, Moffett as a bruising runner and Nicholas as an elusive option.

“We all feed off each other and we’re not a group where if one does good, I won’t get to play,” Nicholas said. “If one does well, we’re all excited and we want him to go crazy. If he falls off, we’re there to catch him. Our group is really close and I’m excited to be part of that.”