Future Razorback Isaiah Nichols has helped turn around storied Springdale

By: Dudley E. Dawson
Published: Thursday, October 5, 2017
Springdale defensive lineman Isaiah Nichols breaks through the line of scrimmage during a game against Conway on Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, in Springdale.
Photo by Ben Goff
Springdale defensive lineman Isaiah Nichols breaks through the line of scrimmage during a game against Conway on Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, in Springdale.

— No matter what the rest of the season holds, Arkansas defensive end pledge Isaiah Nichols and his fellow Springdale seniors have helped rebuild the Bulldogs.

The Springdale program has a storied history that included four state titles and 261 wins in 36 years under Jarrell Williams.

The Red 'Dogs continued their success with another state title in 2005 under Gus Malzahn, who went into college coaching following the season.

But in 2014, the program hit rock bottom with a winless season. Former Arkansas and UCA quarterback Zak Clark was hired to try and revitalize a program that was once his arch rival while playing for Fayetteville High School.

Clark gives Nichols (6-4, 260 pounds) and his seniors plenty of credit heading into Friday night's game between the Bulldogs (4-1) and Bentonville West (5-0).

“Our junior highs combined were 2-18 that first year and we went 2-9, but it is a great senior class,” Clark said. “(Nichols) is our leader and they have done an outstanding job so far and now we can see what we are really made of.”

Springdale won its first four games for the first time since 2005, but lost 56-14 to No. 1 Springdale Har-Ber last week.

“We have come a long way,” Nichols said. “The score may not show it...and didn’t do us justice, but I think with the teams we had in previous years it would have been a lot worse. Mentally, we are a lot stronger and we just want to show people Springdale football is on its way back to where it used to be.

“Hopefully, we can catch them again in the playoffs.”

Nichols had 8.5 sacks in his team’s first four games and had three tackles for lost yardage against Har-Ber.

“I have a high motor and I have become a better technician,” Nichols said. “I am getting my keys right and getting better with my hands. I am just trying to produce for my brothers.”

Clark knows he has a special player, even though he has only been playing football for three years.

“He is a stud and everybody knows it,” Clark said. “His numbers and his tape speak for themselves, but what makes us better is how hard he goes in practice, in the weight room. He checks all the boxes and is a tremendous leader and makes everybody around him better.”’

Nichols lined up at defensive end last season, but has played more inside this year.

“He could play anywhere on the line,” Clark said. “He played end last year and if he did that this year, everybody would just try to run away from him to the other side of where he is lined up.

“Most of the time he is our strong tackle in our four down or the nose guard in our three down. We have tried to move him around a lot.”

Before the Har-Ber game, the Springdale defense had been solid.

“Defensively, we go out there and play our game and we try to make stops in the pass and stops in the run and try to just do our job,” Nichols said. “Offensively, we are doing a lot of things better and we just have to learn to piece things together better.”

Nichols hears a lot that his best football is ahead of him.

“I take it is a compliment,” Nichols said. “I just can’t wait to see how much I grow when I get to the UA and how big of an athlete that I can be. The sky is the limit and as long as I keep pushing the limit, I will keep working harder and getting to where I want to be.”

Nichols was one of three in-state players that came away with offers from Arkansas’ initial Trench Hogs camp this past summer along with offensive linemen Noah Gatlin of Jonesboro and Luke Jones of Pulaski Academy.

Nichols, who had 14 offers going into the camp, was thrilled with his effort.

“I knew that was the day that I needed to be at my best and I really thought I played my game and showed the coaches what they needed to see,” Nichols said. “I was so blessed with all the offers, but I’ve wanted to be a Razorback for so long and that is the one I wanted most of all.”

Nichols and Gatlin both committed to Arkansas three days later and Jones committed a month afterward.

“I was so happy for Isaiah,” Clark said. “That was the big one he wanted and it would have been real tough for him if he had not gotten one from Arkansas. He would have been still blessed to go to one of the other schools, but it’s a better fit for him at Arkansas.

“The offer and committing to Arkansas allowed him to relax about that and is probably one reason why he is off to a great start.

“I don’t blame the Arkansas coaches for tacking their time, especially with the limited scholarships they have this year. It worked out great for everybody involved."

Arkansas is off to a 2-2 start. Nichols has been to the two home games in Fayetteville.

“I just feel like Arkansas has been a little bit like Springdale — one week we are good, the next week we are not as good,” Nichols said.

Nichols spends most of his time talking to defensive line coach John Scott, defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads and outside linebackers coach Chad Walker.

“I talk to Coach Scott the most and I think we have the same personality and he has a high motor, too, and is always moving,” Nichols said. “He is really good with the recruits and is just an all-around good guy.

“I also talk to Coach Rhoads and he is just a great coach and a great person. We can sit down and have a conversation and it won’t be about football. We can sit down and have a real conversation.”

“Coach Walker is another great guy that is just always moving with his high motor. He can’t stand still.”

Nichols said he models his game after Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Wattt.

“I would say that when I first started playing football, J.J. Watt was real huge and that is who I wanted to be like,” Nichols said. “I think being versatile and being able to play all the spots on the line like he does will be great for me.

“I study him a lot and learn what he does in certain situations. He is a guy that I really look up to.”

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