Nicoll provides the spark for Douglas |

Nicoll provides the spark for Douglas

by Chuck Smock

Imagine, for a moment, you’re a football player responsible for returning kickoffs and punts.

Your team is down by three points in the second quarter and you’re standing on your goal line under the glare of the Friday night lights. Players, fans, cheerleaders and marching bands are generating a swirl of noise that would make your head spin if you gave it a chance.

Your team needs a big play. Desperately.

This was Kenny Nicoll’s world last Friday night.

So, what was going though the mind of the Douglas High senior in the moments before he returned a kickoff for 95 yards and an exhilarating touchdown against Hug High? A touchdown that gave the Tigers momentum and a lead they would never relinquish?

“The first thing I was thinking was, ‘Catch the ball. Don’t drop it,'” Nicoll said.

“After that, I was just trying to find some running room.”

He headed straight upfield, looking for blocking help from a wall of teammates near the 25-yard line.

“I got hit, then spun out toward the Hug sideline and didn’t see anyone,” Nicoll said. “It was all open field from there.”

Open field, perhaps, but not a simple stroll to the end zone. Nicoll admitted he had his doubts about being able to go the distance.

“I was just hoping I didn’t get caught from behind,” he said.

“I’m not the fastest guy in the world, but once I got past the kicker I thought I’d be all right.”

If Nicoll were a role player whose only responsibility was returning kicks, his touchdown return would have been spectacular. The fact that Nicoll starts at cornerback on defense and plays wide receiver in several key situations on offense made the special-teams play all the more remarkable.

Tigers head coach Mike Rippee was among those impressed by Nicoll’s efforts last week.

“Kenny Nicoll has stepped up and become a leader on this team.” Rippee said. “He has been the spark that has lit us – not only by his play and hard work, but verbally and that’s very important.

“The best teams always have a player who does that, and Kenny fills that role for us.”

Nicoll’s primary responsibilities are at cornerback. His versatility has been a big advantage this season as the Tigers adjust to playing a new defensive scheme that features four defensive backs instead of three.

Rippee, who coaches the defensive backs, said he likes to mix up his coverages, playing equal amounts of man and zone.

And playing man-to-man requires having skilled, instinctive cornerbacks who can cover receivers, read and react as the play develops and make tackles.

“I’m not afraid to let Kenny go one-on-one with anybody in the league,” said Rippee, who added that Nicoll usually draws the assignment to cover the opponent’s best wide receiver. “He’s a good cover guy, he has good hands and he hits a ton. He will really light you up.”

Nicoll likes the switch to the 4-3 from the 4-4 the Tigers played a year ago.

“It takes some of the so-called pressure off the corners,” he said. “It gives you a chance to be more of a football player. You get to makes more tackles and play the run more without always having to worry about the pass.”

Nicoll also plays wide receiver in the Tigers’ two-minute offense and plays one of the wideout positions when Douglas goes to a spread formation.

“Kenny is seeing a lot of playing time offensively,” Rippee said. “He’s made some big catches and done some good things.”

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