Linebacker Joey Nichol provides emotional lift for Air Force defense

September 5, 2013 Updated: September 5, 2013 at 7:10 pm
photo - In an overtime battle Air Force lost to Navy 28-21 at Falcons Stadium Saturday, October 6, 2012. Michael Ciaglo/The Gazette
In an overtime battle Air Force lost to Navy 28-21 at Falcons Stadium Saturday, October 6, 2012. Michael Ciaglo/The Gazette 

Spencer Proctor knows the emotion on display from fellow linebacker Joey Nichol is sincere.

After all, he's seen it in places far from the football field.

"Freshman year, we weren't playing on varsity too much, but he would be like 'All right guys, we've got to study for this German test!'" Proctor said, imitating the intense voice of his Air Force teammate. "Then it was, 'Hey now, we've all got to get ready for this coms class test!'

"It was like, 'OK, this guy is leading us in the classroom, too. What's next?'"

Next has been Nichol's sudden ascension into the role of emotional leader of the defense. He's the guy shouting at and for teammates before plays, after plays and on the sidelines.

"As the quarterback of the defense, I feel like they're going to follow," Nichol said. "As much as they can get excited about themselves, if I can get excited, they can get even more excited."

The junior isn't just leading with his words. Nichol made seven tackles in the season opener, including one for a 1-yard loss. His blitz in the second quarter forced Colgate's Gavin McCarney into a rushed incompletion that stalled a seven-play drive on Air Force's side of the field when the game was still close. At the time, it was a big play.

"He does like to play and he's got a good presence," coach Troy Calhoun said. "With (linebacker coach) Steve (Russ)'s guidance, he's got a chance to have a really solid season this year."

But Nichol won't be satisfied with a solid season for himself. He wants it for everyone on the defense.

"He just has this fire, this intensity and passion for wanting to make everyone around him better," Proctor said. "That's the kind of guy he is in general, not just on the field."

Added cornerback Steffon Batts: "He takes it very seriously."

Nichol is the second of four siblings, but he doesn't recall a need to be extra loud or assertive to make himself heard at home. If anything, he considered himself a quiet leader when he was younger.

But that's not who he is anymore, and Calhoun is thrilled to have the fire at the middle linebacker position.

"That's a pretty important spot, just in terms of communication and getting guys lined up," Calhoun said. "It's got to be more than just the intelligent part of it. There's got to be something that person brings in terms of focus and intensity that can be contagious in a positive way."

His teammates appreciate the emotion Nichol is spreading.

"He knows how to get people hyped up for the next play," safety Christian Spears said. "You always want to have fire, especially on the defensive side. You don't want to have highs and lows throughout the game, you just want to stay high the whole time."

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