Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 22, 2001
Chris Nickson has passed and rushed for over 1,000 yards this year as PCHS quarterback
By KEVIN PEARCEY
On Saturday Dec. 8 in Birmingham, Pike County sophomore quarterback Chris Nickson wants to present 10 seniors on this year’s Bulldogs’ football team an award.
That award would be the Class 3A State Championship.
"It would feel good for me, but I know it would feel extremely good for them because this may be the last time they ever put their hands on a football," he said.
The Bulldogs (9-3) are just three games away from the realization of a state title as they travel to play defending 3A champ Aliceville on Friday night in a quarterfinal match-up.
But if the Bulldogs are to hand the unbeaten Yellow Jackets its first loss of the year, Nickson knows it will take a better performance then last season’s 12-6 third round loss to Washington County.
As a freshman, Nickson became the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback toward the end of the 2000 campaign, wowing Pike County fans with his natural athleticism and ability to throw the ball deep with near-perfect accuracy.
"It was real hard at first and confusing," Nickson said about the level of competition from the junior varsity to the varsity ranks. "I just had to step up and do what I had to do."
But that all changed on a wet night in Chatom.
"I can’t think of a word for it," Nickson said about the quarterfinal game last year. "I just couldn’t find a handle on the ball."
What happened was the freshman began to play like a freshman.
Nickson tossed three interceptions in the game and fumbled a snap on a five-turnover evening for Pike County. Washington County scored 12 straight points, sending Nickson and the Bulldogs back to Brundidge.
At least for a year.
Nickson went to work.
During the summer, he attended the Bowden Quarterback and Receiver Camp at Troy State.
"I learned some things and got better," he said. "Then I came back and Coach (Wayne) Grant and Coach (Danny) Suber helped me also."
Largely because of a number of returning starters on the offensive line, the Bulldogs entered this year ranked No. 7 in the state. After two straight losses to open the year, not including a jamboree loss to Charles Henderson, Pike County fell out of the top ten.
Nickson and his teammates started looking for answers.
"We didn’t play to our potential in those first three games," said Nickson. "I don’t think we were mentally prepared. We knew what we were doing, but we weren’t executing."
The Bulldogs started with a 41-13 win over Lafayette. Pike County didn’t lose again until dropping a 29-20 decision to Class 5A Stanhope-Elmore in the final game of the regular season.
By the end of the year, Nickson had rushed for 1,004 yards and 11 touchdowns, while passing for 896 and 12 touchdowns. After throwing three picks in one game last season, Nickson threw just two interceptions for the whole of 2001.
But the sophomore’s not satisfied.
"It could be better," he said.
Nickson credits the Bulldogs’ offensive line for his and the backfield’s success this year.
"They (the OL) give me so much time back there, that sometimes I don’t have a choice but to find a receiver," Nickson said.
But for all of Pike County’s wins this year, its run to Birmingham almost came to end before it even got started in the first round against Fultondale.
Fultondale led 3-0 at halftime and its defense had zeroed in on Nickson all night, holding him to just 25 yards passing and 37 yards on the ground. On the opening kickoff of the third quarter, Grant called for a play the Bulldogs had spent numerous times going over in practice.
"I never thought we’d use it," said Nickson, laughing.
Nickson caught the kickoff and began upfield. At the 30-yard line, with the Fultondale defense coming on a full head of steam, the sophomore then passed the ball back to senior speedster Joey Spikner. Spikner raced 70-yards for what proved to be the game winning score.
Nickson also had to do his part in Nick Walker’s 20-yard game winning field goal last week against Springville. Not only does he play safety on defense, but Nickson is also the snapper on field goal and extra point attempts.
In the second overtime of the game, Nickson lined up and delivered the ball to holder Elijah Daniel. Walker booted it through, giving the Bulldogs a 31-28 win.
"I was just thinking get it to him (Daniel) clean," he said.
At 15-year’s old, Nickson can’t remember the last time Pike County won a state title.
After all, he was only four when the Bulldogs won its second straight 4A State Championship in 1989.
But he’s been feeling the pressure from the people of Brundidge and some of Grant’s old players to win a third this year.
"I really want to do it to," he said.