Shasta County Sports caught up with 2004 West Valley High quarterback Matt Nichols as he navigates Canadian Football League success with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
Nichols helped West Valley win a 2004 Northern Section title, completing 99 of 165 passes (60%) for 1,666 yards, 16 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. He also ran for six scores that season. He would go on to play for Eastern Washington University where he was the Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Year in 2007 and 2009. Nichols was signed as an undrafted free agent buy the Dallas Cowboys in 2010 before playing from 2010 to 2015 for the Edmonton Eskimos. He was traded to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in 2015.
Editors Note: This interview was printed when the Blue Bombers were 5-0 and Nichols set a franchise record with 19 straight completions, following it up by being ranked as the top QB in the league by the CFL.ca. The Blue Bombers are 7-2 overall, leading the West Division, but Nichols will miss 4-6 weeks with an upper body injury suffered in a Week 10 win over the BC Lions, according to CFL.ca.
Shasta County Sports (SCS): What do you enjoy most about being a professional football player and what do you find the most challenging?
Matt Nichols: There are so many things I enjoy about being a pro football player. I love throwing a touchdown in front of 30,000 crazy fans. I love celebrating in the locker room after a win. I love being on the road with 50 guys on the same mission. I love the relationships I’ve formed with people from all over North America. The most challenging is dealing with failures and finding a way to move forward. I’ve gotten pretty good at it, but it takes a strong support system.
SCS: You are tearing it up in the CFL this year, being ranked as the No. 1 QB by CFL.ca, setting franchise records, you’re stats off the charts. Frankly, what’s gotten into you in 2019?
Matt Nichols: Haha it’s been a great start to the season, that’s for sure. I just approach it one day at a time, put in the work, and have tunnel vision on reaching my goals.
SCS: You didn’t have an easy path to get to this point in your career — from Eastern Washington to a short stint with the Dallas Cowboys, finding a place with the Edmonton Eskimos and settling into stardom with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. What drove your journey and to persevere through the injuries to wind up where you’re at today?
Matt Nichols: I have always had so many people believing in me and supporting me through my triumphs and disappointments. I am also guided by the idea that I am raising 2 beautiful girls. How am I suppose to teach them about perseverance and doing anything to achieve your goals if I’m not willing to do it myself.
SCS: I want to take you back almost 15 years, what’s that one high school sports memory you keep going back to when you think of playing at The Pasture on Friday nights for the Eagles?
Matt Nichols: I still think back to those days a lot. I remember our summer camps at Lake Siskiyou. Our candle light ceremony on the field. Hanging out in the team room. The best memory has to be our celebration of our Section Championship against Paradise. It was a score of about 42-7. I think I played on one of the best high school teams in California history. We just couldn’t play past that game back then. I wish we would have taken part in the State Championship they have now.
SCS: Sticking with high school days, do you remember what the “go-to” play call was when you had to have a first down or a big play and what was it?
Matt Nichols: I’ve been through about 20 offenses since then so I don’t remember exactly how we called it back then, but just throwing go routes to Manny Magaña or JD Lane would be the “go-to” big play. If we needed a first down in a crucial moment, it would be a call for Scott Felter. Savy receiver that could just get open and catch everything.
SCS: As you know, the North State is a very under-recruited area, yet you, Ricky Ray and Aaron Rodgers are all from this area and have all been successful as pro QBs. What advice would you give younger athletes who are trying to be seen by recruiters and get noticed?
Matt Nichols: We all had a difficult route, but one thing was in common. The belief that hard work, tunnel vision, and refusing to look at statistical probabilities of making it. My advice is to get in front of college coaches. Attend as many camps as possible. Something I didn’t do, but wish I would have. And have your grades right. No coach will take a chance on a poor student that may not be eligible.
SCS: When did you realize the opportunity to be a professional athlete was within reach?
Matt Nichols: Since I was a little kid, I had my mind made up that I was going to be a professional athlete. But the moment I thought it was really within reach was after my sophomore season at Eastern Washington. I was top 5 in the country in passing with 2 years left. I felt like I belonged that year after a rough freshman season.
SCS: What’s one thing you learned from a teammate/opponent that helps you succeed today and how does it influence what you do on a regular basis?
Matt Nichols: Kerry Joseph had a big impact on my professional career. He was a former NFL running back/safety and 10 year CFL QB. He just taught me how to prepare weekly as a pro. How to get in the building at 5am and leave late. How to stay consistent for my teammates on a daily basis. I pass those things along to the young guys behind me.
Why do you wear #15?
MN: I wore 16 as a kid, high school, college, and Edmonton. When i got traded to Winnipeg, I thought is was time for a change. Being Ricky Ray’s number made it an easy decision.
Go-to pregame song?
MN: My playlist is always changing. Right now it’s J Cole-Middle Child.
The one kids movie you can watch continuously?
MN: My kids watch movies on repeat so I’m used to this. I can watch any Toy Story movie on repeat.
Favorite sports movie?
MN: This is so hard to answer. It would be between Varsity Blues, Tin Cup, or Remember The Titans.
Favorite activity/attraction in the North State?
MN: Giants games with my family or just playing a round of golf at Tucker Oaks. So many great memories at that course with my friends growing up.
Place you always have to eat at in Shasta County?
MN: My wife and I always make sure to grab a burger at Bartels anytime we get to visit.
All-time favorite TV show/series?
MN: Again, so hard to choose just one, but I would have to go with Seinfeld.
Favorite all-time athlete?
MN: I’ve never really idolized any one athlete. I like certain things about so many athletes and I try to implement things in my game that I see in others. My favorite athlete might be Ricky Ray now that I think about it. He’s such a professional, did it his way, ignored any criticism, and is one of the best people and family man you could ever meet.
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