Chris Nickson Interview

Nickson

Why did you decide to come to Vandy?

It was a good situation for me. Cutler had two years left and I was still in high school. I knew I wasn’t ready to compete at that level and I didn’t mind sitting behind a guy like that who was a pro prospect and see if I could try to be like him and learn from him.

What are you most proud of from your time at Vandy?

When I think about it, it would be that I actually did what a lot of people told me coming out of high school that I couldn’t do. They said I couldn’t be an SEC quarterback and compete at a high level. I think that is one of the things I wanted to accomplish. There was something deep inside of me that was hurt because people said that I couldn’t do it. I wanted to go in and prove people wrong. I’m really proud of that. People back home knew what I went through and the struggle and the things that were done and said. They came to me after my career and told me they were proud of me and that’s something I’m proud of.

Where was the toughest place to play?

To me it was Florida, there was something about that stadium. Those fans are always crazy and the team is always good. There’s more to overcome than just the team. That’s how college football is supposed to be. That atmosphere is mindboggling especially when things aren’t going right.

In 2005 we had to play against the refs too.

Definitely, I remember watching Cutler and that was tough. You can’t beat the Gators, their fans, and the referees.

What did you think when you saw the flag on Earl?

I was devastated, it was ridiculous to be honest. I couldn’t believe it. I have seen so much worse that never got called. To call that in a key situation like that, it took the wind out of our sails. They have to let us play and it wasn’t a good call.

What are your thoughts about your first start at the Big House in Michigan?

I was excited. I was overjoyed and ready to play. We were in the Big House and it was on ESPN. It was very exciting and the way I wanted my career to start. It was a challenge against a historically good team and a great team with a good coaching staff. It was a fun experience.

After my career was over I read an article about how Michigan could of had a great game but they had to play against a QB who wouldn’t stop running (laughs).

What are your thoughts on the missed field goal against Arkansas a few weeks later? The wind picked up out of nowhere after the timeout.

If you watch it on tape you can see the ball going straight up then out of nowhere it begins to fall. Something just took the air out of the ball. I will always remember that. It was a great game but some kinds of forces were against us in that one.

How special was the win in Georgia?

It was very special. It was pivotal for me because we didn’t have that big win yet. The fans wanted to see something good happened and they wanted to see it I could deliver after the Cutler era. At that point they started to believe in me and I picked up a lot of confidence from that game. I remember talking to the players after the game and I was ready to go crush people after that. I knew we could do it. It showed people we could compete and beat ranked teams. It was very special for me.

What do you remember about the game against Kentucky that year? You had over 440 yards passing and most of them where in the 2nd half?

I learned more about myself in that game than in any other game. I learned how to not make mistakes. The key to the game is not turning the ball over. I had some big runs but I turned the ball over in the end zone and threw a pick on the one and it killed us. It killed our momentum and we should have won that game. I learned a lot about winning football games that day.

How disappointing was the loss to Alabama your Junior year. It seems we had to play against the refs too since Alabama got all the calls?

You know what? It doesn’t rank in my top disappointments. We played a tough game. Bama was tough and their defense was good. Their strategy made it difficult and we had a young team at the time. It was a challenge and the refs helped them. We wasn’t able to get it done. I had a big game that day. Alabama didn’t want me to play for them and I threw a TD against them. I felt like we could’ve won but we didn’t.

The calls against Earl and Alex Washington hurt.

Yes, could’ve had it.

Didn’t you hurt your shoulder in that game?

No it was 2007 against Ole Miss. I dove over two or three people to get in the end zone and seperated it.

Didn’t it nag you throughout your career?

Yes, when it got hit it was a nag. I thought it would get better but it still affects me and Ole Miss 07 is where it started.

How bittersweet was the win against South Carolina on the road? You were injured and didn’t play.

It was one of the greatest wins in Vandy’s history due to their ranking. We had a young team and we had a guy didn’t have a lot of experience at quarterback and DJ came out and hadn’t had much experience and they both had a great game. The defense played extremely well and the offense scored enough to win it. We beat them and it was fun to watch. Our guys matured in that game and showed the world we could beat a Top Ten team. That was one of the toughest thing I had to do was watch it. Being on the sidelines was so hard from a competitors point of view. It’s hard when they are having success and I can’t be out there. It’s a learning experience and I had to be a man for the team and pat them on the back. Even though I wasn’t there I wanted to pat them on the back and cheer them on.

What did you think when you heard Earl was turning pro?

No, I expected it. Our offense wasn’t producing a lot and he had accomplished a lot of what he wanted to and broke the record. I went to him after the season and told him I appreciated everything he did for me and for the team.

I think he’ll do well with Cutler in Chicago.

Oh yeah, it’s like being back home with people you know all around you. It’s odd but those people will back you and you know they will have your back. I’m sure they met guys along the way to provide support but there’s nothing like having your old friends there. It’s exciting and I’m happy for them.

How excited were you after your performance against Miami of Ohio when you rushed for over 160 yards and put on a show.

I was excited because I was back on the field again. After 2007 people asked me if I would be back. When I came back and performed the way I did it gave me confidence that I could still do it and do it at a high level. I knew I could do it but I didn’t know if I could do it in the fashion I used to. I put a lot of pressure on myself and it is exciting to look back on and I’m proud of it. It gave the confidence to get ready for games 2, 3, 4, and 5.

How cool was it to beat South Carolina on ESPN in Primetime at home?

That was probably the most excited I’ve ever been after a game in all my life. All I had was flashbacks from 2007 in my head when I couldn’t help them. I just wanted to win that game. It was on ESPN and people were talking about Spurrier and their ranking. It was fun and I played with so much emotion and I wanted that win so bad for myself not just the team.

What were your thoughts on the Rice game? That was a nail biter early but the defense made some adjustments at the half and we shut them down and got the win.

Honestly, that was the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. In my life! It was Rice and they weren’t nationally ranked but people didn’t know that they didn’t have a powerhouse offense. They could score 50 points on anyone and I knew that. Coach actually told me we are going to have to score more than 28 points and I knew their defense couldn’t stop me but I wondered how many points could we score. We would score then they would score. Once I figured out we could score I knew we were going to win the game. Our defense stopped them before they stopped us.

I was so nervous. I went up to the team chaplain on the sidelines and prayed. I was shaking I was so nervous. I thought of all the big things going on and I wanted to continue the streak. We couldn’t lose to Rice. It was a challenge man.

How specical was the win in Oxford? Ryan Hamilton was the hero that day.

All the team just got together and said we aren’t going to lose. I separated my shoulder again and Mac came in and did a tremendous job. Hanfeldt hit a few field goals to put us on top. Hamilton had two or three picks and gave us a chance. The defense was great and gave us a chance to win the game.

What did you think when you saw their RB McClester fumble into the end zone?

I was hoping it wouldn’t be overturned. Their was some reviews earlier in the year and I was biting my nails because I didn’t think it would go our way. I was pumped.

What did you think when you heard ESPN Gameday was coming to Nashville?

I tried not to get too excited. I’m the type of person that doesn’t get excited. I just wanted to win. I think it might have helped me concentrate on preparing. I just knew Auburn was doing well and I wanted to knock them out. Everybody in Nashville was excited and wanted to see us win. I got hurt and had to come out in that one too. Mac came in and did a great job and I give him all the credit for that win. He did a great job and had some big touchdown passes.

What was it like with all the hype surrounding that game and ESPN? Did you ever step back and reflect on how far the team has come?

Oh yeah, when I was first came to Vandy not much was going on and not many fans were in the stands. You saw more bleachers than people but that night it was packed and cameras everywhere. The beautiful ESPN ladies were there on the sidelines. It’s how college football should be and Vandy hadn’t gained that respect. I knew we could do it. They say we shouldn’t be in the SEC but we proved we were a good team and weren’t all about academics. We were there to play football, win, and get an education. We established ourselves and got us out from the bottom of the SEC and moving to the top. It was fun and a great environment.

How disappointing was the loss to Mississippi State?

It was really disappointing because I got yanked out of that game. And to me I felt the decisions made after that game where a little unjust. That was a low point for me in college football. Mississippi State played a god game and I thought we could’ve won that game. We prepared for something completely different for what they gave us and we weren’t prepared. A lot of blame went out and I’m a quarterback and I am all for taking the blama and I took a lot of it. It was tough for me and it was disappointing me but the toughest thing for me was what happened afterwards.

Their defense was really good that day.

We prepared for a totally different defense. They had an off week the week before and came out in a 3-5-3 defense and our line was confused. I was confused with what to do with what I had. There wasn’t much to do at the time. Our coaching staff expected me to handle it. And after halftime is when I made my key mistake. Big time quarterbacks don’t make mistakes at critical points in the game. I made a critical one. I threw a pick on their side of the field and the coaches weren’t having it and it went down the way it did.

What do you think went wrong in the Duke loss?

It’s hard to be honest when it comes to certain things.

Was the playcalling what lead to that loss?

Definitely. The playcalling cost us. They could have called better plays. We played Duke conservatively and Duke is a team you should attack. We could’ve brought in a different gameplan and scored a lot of points. It’s so disappointing. That shouldn’t have been a loss.

Do you think the playcalling has been a little conservative? I’ve heard from a lot of fans and players that we don’t concentrate on the passing game until we are down several scores.

That’s exactly right. I feel that contributes to the confidence the coaches have in our quarterbacks at that moment. I feel they don’t have confidence in us throwing the football. I think it was a necessity to throw the ball from time to time. They have us switch in and out. Their lack of confidence put our quarterbacks in a tough position in managing the game. If a team knows we aren’t going to throw it it makes it hard to drop back on third and long and make something happen. They could’ve made it easy for us. Had we went about things differently offensively things probably could’ve been different. I just chalk that up to lack of confidence in certain guys and certain positions. It makes us hard to be successful when they aren’t put in the best positions.

Do you think we overuse the QB draw?

Once I got to Vandy it became overused. People in the stands know what we are going to call. My stepfather and cousins tell me after the game “I knew you were running the quarterback draw.” The defense knows too. Sometimes they knew it and still couldn’t stop it. They still call it and the defense has to stop it. The coaches had confidence in me to run the ball and they couldn’t tackle me. It was overused and the coaches were using the guys talents to their advantage. But you have to use your personnel and I don’t blame them.

How special was the win at Kentucky? You appeared to be healthy and carried the team that day.

That was my first game back since the Mississippi State game. I was comforable because I always had success against them. They always played man to man all day. Anybody that plays me in man all day I just turn my hat back and go to work. I know they can’t stop me running and their DB’s can’t stop our recievers. To win that was great. That was number 6 and people were questioning whether or not we would get it. We wanted to go out and put on a performance. It was a big win for the university.

Was a weight lifted after we got number 6?

It was a long time coming. We had got close so many times and it never happened. We had to go finish it and get over the hump. I’m not a superstitious type but a lot of people said we couldn’t do it. It wasn’t big for me because I knew we could do it and we should’ve done it in the past. I expected to be bowl eligible by my last year.

What are your thoughts on Senior Day against UT?

I was extremely emotional before the game. That was due to all the ups and downs while I was at Vandy. Everything went through my head that I had been through and it was emotional. But when the whistle blew I had to perform and I didn’t perform well with what UT gave me. It was bittersweet because I wanted a win over Tennessee before I left. Then I got yanked again. Before the game I was thinking about all the things in my four years there. It was bittersweet then after I was yanked I was just bitter (laughs). That wasn’t a fun day for me.

How special was the Music City Bowl?

It was a struggle too because there was a controversy. I accepted what was given. There are so many things that have happened and I had been pulled so many times I had expected. But I wanted to finish with a bang and when I got to step on the field I wanted to give it my all.

We did a great job that day. The coaches did a great job. It showed you don’t always have to be on top to be on top. I wanted to perform in whatever way the coaching staff asked me to. I just wanted to be part of the team.

What were you thinking when you watched Sean Richardson recover the punt that hit a BC player for a touchdown? Usually that stuff happens to our opponent.

I was thinking, it finally happened. Something goes in our favor. You look back at Florida in 2005. We should’ve won that game. Then that happens and it’s finally our time. It was great to be part of that.

That was smart. It’s not a normal play and he was smart enough to take advantage of a great opportunity. Some guys wouldn’t have touched it. People in the SEC have talked a lot of smack about Vandy athletics and say you are going to be my doctor one day and stuff like that and you we will never be in the NFL but right there his brains is what made that play and had a place in football (laughs).

The atmosphere was great.

Tell me about it. We were in the Titans stadium. We didn’t think we’d fill it up but Vandy fans showed up and it was great. It was so exciting. My blood was pumping. You couldn’t feel the cold because our fans had us pumped up. Usually Vandy fans aren’t like that. I am from Alabama and went to a lot of their games. Alabama fans are crazy. They are crazy from the start to finish, win or lose. That night our fans were like that. they were out of their minds and it was fun. When you have fans like that you want to play harder and give everything you got. I don’t know if the Vandy fans realize that atmosphere and support is key. We didn’t know that to do with ourselves that day and it contributed to the way we played. We had so much support and it showed. It was perfect, absolutely perfect.

What do you think about the team next year?

I think they could be great. They have a lot of guys who have experience now. The line may be young but they aren’t inexperienced. They’ve done it before and will do it again. They can look at themselves and see what they have done. They have done it before and should do it again. They can say we almost did this or that. We went to and won a bowl. They are going to set the bar high and shoot for a BCS bowl game or a SEC title. They should shoot for a national ranking. Set the bar high and achieve the goals. People don’t expect you to be there but you expect to be there. They have the opportunity to look at themselves that way. They have the talent to do it.

Mackenzi Adams is a great quarterback. They have a talented quarterback in Larry Smith. I know both of those guys can perform at a high level. The defense has some talent too. Myron Lewis there and he will do well and be a high draft pick. They have to fill some holes in the secondary but Hamilton is there. Chris Mavre is there at linbacker. He’s very talented and does a great job. The defensive line is tremendous and should do well.

They are running a different offense this year. I’m anxious to see how they use those guys and I hope they put them in better situations and not put them in bad situations. I hope they don’t put a lot of pressure on them so they can use their talents to the best of their abilities. I have no doubts that they will do special things.

Who do you think will be the starter next year Larry or Mack?

My honest opinion is that Adams has a lot of experience. He can throw and read defenses but it’s hard not to play Larry. He came in against Boston College and played well. He the tenacity to be just as good as JeMarcus Russell when he was at LSU. It’s hard to say. I couldn’t tell you. The coaches may choose Mack but it’s hard not to play Larry.

I have a feeling it’ll be Mack for a while until he messes up then it’s Larry until he makes a mistake.

That situations sucks. It messes with a guys head. You can’t ask a guy to be 100% confident if he is going to wonder if he’s going to play. I’ve been in that situation. You always prepare for every game the same. You give it everything you have. But I’ve had to prepare for a game and not know if I’m the starter or not going to play. It’s tough man.

Is there anything else you want to say to the Vandy fans?

I can honestly say I appreciate the Vandy fans have offereed me through the years. All in all it was a great experience. Most of all I grew up as a man. I contribute that to Vandy fans because I have a 3 month old son and it’s made me a better father. Even though it wasn’t he best time of my life it was a great experience of my life. From the day they asked who was going to be the QB after Cutler until the Music City Bowl they had my back and I appreciate that.