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Nichols hopes to make most of his shot at NFL

Nevada defensive lineman Tristan Nichols tries to block a pass attempt by Boise State quarterback Hank Bachmeier during a game on Oct. 2. Nichols led the Mountain West with 10 sacks this season. — AP file photo

Tristan Nichols’ path to the NFL is in the homestretch.

The former Maui High School standout completed his college career for the University of Nevada in the Quick Lane Bowl on Dec. 27 — he finished the season with 10 sacks, 11 tackles for loss and 28 total tackles in 11 games for the 8-5 Wolf Pack.

After deciding to sit out college all-star games, his next step is his pro day on March 21. The NFL draft is April 28-30, and draftscout.com has Nichols ranked as the 24th defensive end available.

“If I have a good pro day, which I’m fully expecting to, and I run really well and test really well, Day 3 or priority undrafted free agent is something that’s in the cards,” Nichols said via phone from Miami on Thursday. “I’ve got a shot, I’ve just got to make the most of it.”

Nichols is trying to join a short list of Maui Interscholastic League players who have made it to an NFL regular-season roster: Kaluka Maiava, Mitchell Loewen, John Lotulelei, Hercules Mata’afa and Pasoni Tasini are Valley Isle natives who have made it that far.

“Absolutely, Hercules for sure,” Nichols said of the names he remembers and looked up to, pointing out the former Lahainaluna standout. “He was like a man amongst boys in the MIL. I was a sophomore and he was a senior. I was playing tight end I had a specific play where I was supposed to block him and he totally just blew me up and went and made a sack.

“At that moment I knew he was different. He was somebody that I would watch his highlights, follow his career through Washington State and he was definitely somebody I looked up to.”

Nichols also mentioned Baldwin standouts Maiava and JoJo Dickson as people he remembers watching play in the MIL as a kid.

“I thought to be in their position one day, that’d be super cool,” Nichols said.

Nichols wants to play football as long as possible. The proposed resurgence of the USFL and XFL have him intrigued, in case the NFL doesn’t work out at first.

After hearing from “five or six” different professional agents or their agencies, he signed with Christina Phillips of ISA Sports and Entertainment — the move was announced on Jan. 13 via Twitter.

“My agent is really good, she knows what she’s doing, she’s got dudes in the league right now that she represents,” Nichols said. “I mean any opportunity to continue playing this game is a blessing, so whether it be Canadian, USFL, XFL, I’m just getting here and I’m just riding it out.

“I’ve been doing it this long, I’m just going to give it my all so I have no regrets.”

Nichols remembers starting to play for the Kihei Dolphins Pop Warner team as a fourth grader. He also recalls scoring a touchdown as a running back in the Maui Turkey Bowl against the Kahului Aliis.

After the Wolf Pack’s bowl game, Nichols spent two weeks with his father and stepmother in Jacksonville, Fla., where they recently moved.

He arrived in Miami on Jan. 10 and started working out at Bommarito Performance Systems.

“Right after the bowl game we just hit the ground running, I was supposed to come out to Miami right after my game, but I wanted to take a little time off and (Phillips) was understanding of that — it was just a super good connection from the start,” Nichols said.

Nichols hyperextended his elbow in the bowl game, but that injury has healed and he is now concentrating on being ready for pro day in March.

“I’m super excited, this is really just something that I’ve been wanting to do,” he said. “To be in this situation and position that I’m in now, it’s definitely surreal.”

He credits his father Tre Nichols, stepmom Elvira, and his mom is Patricia Baker.

“I definitely wouldn’t be here without my parents and God, for sure,” Nichols said. “The guidance I’ve gotten from them, it’s immense and their support, it’s been incredible”

He is cross-training to be ready to play outside linebacker as well as his college position of defensive end.

He lives in Miramar, Fla., and awakes at 5:45 a.m. — he is busy working out all parts of his body, getting massages or stretching to be ready for his upcoming job interviews.

He does not anticipate being invited to the NFL combine, but is not worried about it as he prepares in Miami. His days also include agility work on the field.

“They’ve got stuff down here to help with whatever interest you’ve got going on, they’ve got all the equipment, like stuff that I’ve never even heard of, never been around before, even being at a Division I school,” Nichols said. “It’s crazy.”

He has traveled a long path to get here, from Maui High to Saint Louis School, where he graduated from in 2016, to Arizona Western Junior College, to Nevada, where he was a first team all-Mountain West Conference this season when he led the MWC in sacks.

He’s honored to represent Maui and the state.

“It means the world, I mean just all the talent that’s in Hawaii and Maui, to be like I’m the person that’s in this situation right now, it’s pretty unbelievable,” he said. “Just to still be doing this and having the opportunity to do it, it’s awesome.”

He has overcome all the injuries and COVID pauses and other bumps in the road to get here, including a major knee injury he suffered in December 2019. He finally felt like himself in the 2021 season.

“It’s incredible, the road, like you said, that I’ve been through and on, it feels like it has been forever. … Like I graduated high school in 2016,” he said. “Everybody’s path is different and I’m extremely grateful for all the opportunities that I’ve learned and been through. I don’t think I’d want it any other way or I probably wouldn’t be here now.”

* Robert Collias is at rcollias@mauinews.com

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