By Greg Gielczyjk
GRAYLING – Record-setting Grayling quarterback Justin Nicholas is taking his game to the next level with the announcement that he has signed a National Letter of Intent to attend Albion College next fall.
The 227-pound Nicholas, the Northern Michigan Football League’s Legend Division Offensive Most Valuable Player, didn’t start at quarterback for the Vikings until this year, spending the first two years backing up another standout signal caller, Cameron Summers and playing middle linebacker on defense.
“It was a crazy journey,” Nicholas said. “I took a different role, and just wanted to do anything to help the team win. I understood that, being the backup behind Cam Summers, another great quarterback.
“When the coach (Tim Sanchez) gave me the reins, it was go time. I just wanted to do everything I could to get Grayling a winning season and get back to the playoffs. It just kept getting better, and better, and better. After a while, I said to myself ‘I like this.’
“A lot of credit, I give to coach Sanchez. We worked on the short passes, because that’s what I struggled at. As coach would say, I was blessed with a golden arm. I could just throw it up and it would somehow get where it needed to be. But, with the short game my accuracy had to be better, and I needed to work on my footwork.”
It didn’t take him long to put his own stamp at quarterback. Behind his generalship, the Vikings eclipsed the previous record for most points in a game with 66 against Roscommon in a 66-22 win in Week One.
Later in the season, Nicholas threw for eight touchdowns and 623 yards, both new school records, in a win over Benzie Central. Jimmy Osga, now a Grayling assistant coach, held the previous record of seven touchdown passes and yards passing (seven and 507, respectively) in 2008, and only one other player in Michigan High School Athletic Association history as ever thrown for more touchdowns and yards in a single game. His 72 pass attempts rank second all-time behind Osga, who had 74. Nicholas’ 39 pass completions fell just two short of Osga’s all-time mark of 41.
His season totals of 3,188 passing yards, 40 touchdowns (28 passing, 12 rushing) broke the previous marks of 35 touchdowns set by Osga in 2008. Summers held the previous record of seven TD passes in 2015.
Nicholas originally planned to walk on at a small Division 2 or Division 3 school as a fullback, but Albion — as well as the rest of the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association — were attracted by the big quarterback’s arm and running ability after leading the Vikings’ complicated no-huddle spread offense.
For his part, Nicholas liked what he saw when he visited the Albion campus. He’s excited about the chance to play quarterback at the next level.
“It is just a great area, somewhere that I can prosper in academics and sports,” Nicholas said. “In high school I ran the same offense they’re running, so I need the reads and what the plays are.
“That gives me confidence going into it. I know that they expect perfection, and they expect to be good. They’ve won several championships and have a very storied program. It’s awesome to go there.”
With his size, Nicholas can lower his shoulder and gaining four or five yards at a crack, and he has decent speed. But, he’s also mastered the power read and the read option. He says he didn’t want to be just a pocket passer, or a running quarterback.
Nicholas plans to student business management and sports management at Albion.
Nicholas is aware of the challenge he faces playing at the next level, especially trying at quarterback.
“I’m going from high school athlete to competing against guys who were all-state athletes in high school,” Nicholas said. “They’re bigger, better, faster and I’m excited for a new challenge.
“Obviously, they gave me a workout program. They want me to lose some weight, just keep my stature, and improve my footwork. They fell in love with me, and I fell in love with them. I couldn’t give them enough thanks for putting their trust me. Hopefully I go in there and give the starting spot a run for its money.
“That’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was a little kid was play college football. You never go somewhere you just want to be the backup. You want to go in there because you want to be the main guy. They’re bringing in some more quarterbacks, and I’m looking forward to showcasing my ability.”