Pike County product becomes Vanderbilt#039;s backup quarterback

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Tragedy has turned into opportunity for Chris Nickson.

Serving as a redshirt quarterback at Vanderbilt University, the Pike County native served as the scout team quarterback and spent little time learning the Commodore playbook.

This season, Nickson becomes All-SEC quarterback Jay Cutler's understudy.

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"He did exceptionally well this spring," said Cutler, who was on hand at SEC Media Days last week. "I was really proud of him earning the second string spot."

Nickson earned the spot in an awkward way. Starting tailback Kwane Dosterwas killed in a drive-by shooting in his hometown of Tampa, Fla., which left a huge void in the backfield.

The coaching staff decided to make use of their depth and talent at quarterback by moving second-string quarterback Steven Bright (6-foot-4, 236 pounds) to the H-Back position to allow for Nickson to move into the No. 2 slot behind Cutler.

"We always knew that Chris had great athletic talent, could do a lot of things on the football field, but we wanted to make sure he went through a spring practice to see if he could pick up the nuances of the offense and do the right things, make the right decisions," Commodores coach Bobby Johnson said.

Johnson said the move was made not only to fill the huge void left by Doster, but to get his best athletes on the field.

"(Cutler and Nickson) have the ability to make something happen when it's not there," Johnson said. "If a play breaks down, he may just pull it down and run it. If someone misses a tackle, he may turn a short gain into a long gain. Both are very disciplined and know the offense."

Leading Pike County High to the 2003 Class 3A title, Nickson was an elusive quarterback that turned busted plays into touchdowns. Nickson threw for 2,946 yards and 42 touchdowns, while rushing for 1,526 yards and 22 more touchdowns.

At 6-2, Nickson's playing style in high school could be compared to that of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.

But Nickson was the first to make an effort to get away from that style of play, according to Johnson.

"When he decided to come to Vanderbilt, he met with me and my quarterback coach , Jimmy Kiser, and asked, 'Can ya'll take me to the next level,'" Johnson said. "He didn't want to be that kind of quarterback,

and that says a lot about him."

Cutler believes that Nickson will be a suitable understudy as his backup quarterback.

"He's going to be a positive to the game because he can run the ball, but you have to pass in the SEC," Cutler said. "You can't just be a running quarterback. He's definitely working on it, and he knows it. And he'll excel at it."

Last season Johnson would routinely bring in Bright for a couple series just to get some game experience under his belt. And Cutler said he's unsure if Johnson will do the same this season now that Nickson is the Commodores No. 2 man.

"Going into my senior year, we're going to talk about what kind of subbing we are going to do," Cutler said. "I know we are changing the offense a little bit, so I don't know how much running I'll be able to do."

But Cutler has all the confidence in the world in Nickson if he is needed.

"He's going to be ready for it when it comes down to it if I have to leave the game," Cutler said.