Healthy Nicholson back in Cavaliers' secondary - Cavalier Insider: Cavalier Insider

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Healthy Nicholson back in Cavaliers' secondary

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Posted: Friday, March 21, 2014 12:15 am

Receiver Dominique Terrell darted inside on a slant, only to be popped.

The sound generator was a defensive back dressed in full pads for the first time since early October 2013.

Even for Terrell, this might have been a good sign.

“It’s a great feeling,” said the hitter.

The Virginia football team is four practices into its spring season and a familiar face has resurfaced on the McCue Center practice field.

Demetrious Nicholson, lost for the final seven weeks of last season, is back to good health.

“I’m blessed to be able to be back out here with my teammates, come around for my fourth year,” Nicholson said. “There’s a lot of energy. It’s a new year. We got a fresh start, fresh energy. We’re putting the past behind us and moving forward.”

It was Oct. 5, 2013, and the Cavaliers were trailing Ball State, 31-24, late in the third quarter. They were on their way to a second straight loss in what would become an ugly eight-game skid.

Because of one play, they’d be without their three-year starting corner for the remainder of it.

“It was a play they ran, I believe a read-option play,” Nicholson said. “They handed it to the back. ... I came in for a tackle and one of our linebackers came in from the other side as well. My foot got rolled up on, basically. I got up, tried to run, tried to run after the running back and I felt like I was limping, but I thought I rolled my ankle.”

But it was worse — turf toe for the big toe on his left foot.

“I didn’t expect to have to be out for the rest of the season,” Nicholson said. “I was walking around in a boot after that for about a month, couldn’t put any pressure on it.

“Seeing a couple doctors, they told me it would be best for me to let it really heal and just sit out the rest of this year.”

When UVa lost to Maryland on Oct. 12, it was the first time the Wahoos didn’t have Nicholson on the field since the four-star prospect committed to them inside the Bayside High School auditorium in December 2010.

The 5-foot-11, 185-pounder went from lineup regular to part-time assistant coach. Nicholson’s mission was to bring his replacement up to speed ... fast.

Tim Harris, a ballyhooed freshman out of Richmond, was launched into the fire of covering some of the ACC’s top receivers.

Maryland’s Stefon Diggs. Clemson’s Sammy Watkins. North Carolina’s Quinshad Davis. These were the stiff exams for Harris in his “Welcome to College Football” course.

“It was a lot to cover,” Harris admitted Thursday.

The physical 6-2, 200-pounder took his lumps, but Nicholson did his best to smooth the difficult transition.

“I just tried to be his backbone,” Nicholson said. “Through any receiver he had to check, whatever situation he was in, I tried to always stay in his ear, keep his composure up. A bad play happened, I tried to talk to him, tell him, ‘It happens.’ I told him, ‘It happened to me before.’

“I tried to put his self in my shoes when I was a freshman starting here at UVa. So I just tried to be there for him as much as I could.”

Harris, routinely on an island in defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta’s aggressive system, finished with 26 tackles and two pass break-ups.

This spring, he’s back. So is Nicholson — and his 136 career tackles and three interceptions.

“Tim came in and I tried to coach him up as much as I could,” said senior safety Anthony Harris. “Obviously, the physical ability is there, but sometimes it’s all about the mental aspect of the game. He’s got a lot of plays under his belt this year, so hopefully he can come in and add some more depth and, Lord forbid, something else happens to Tra’, hopefully he’ll be more ready for it.”

If Tuesday’s smack of Terrell was any indication, Nicholson isn’t going down anytime soon.

For the first time in five months, the senior is seeking out contact again.

“I take full advantage of every rep I’m in,” Nicholson said, “and I appreciate the game more being that I had to sit out last year.”

Coastal connection

Virginia punter Alec Vozenilek will be a bit torn tonight when the No. 1-seeded UVa men’s basketball team takes on Coastal Carolina in the NCAA Tournament opener in Raleigh.

His brother, Rob, is a reserve guard for the Cavs. El Hadji Ndieguene is Coastal’s 6-10 starting center — and a former resident of the Vozenilek home in Richmond.

The family housed the Senegal native for two years.

Parents Tom and Betty Vozenilek missed the UVa-Syracuse game to attend the Chanticleers’ contest with Charleston Southern.

It was Ndieguene’s Senior Night. “I think they want Virginia to win, but El Hadji plays well,” Vozenilek said of his parents’ rooting interest tonight. “That’s how I’ll look at it.”

Open practice

Virginia will hold a practice open to the public at 11 a.m., Saturday, in Scott Stadium. Fans should park in the West Lot and enter through the West Gate and will be seated on the west side of the stadium.

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