Heath Nichol, Brady Nichols, named football’s Most Valuable Players

Benny Westcott

Quarterback Heath Nichol and wide receiver Brady Nichols, both seniors, were named Sweet Home football’s MVPs at an end of season banquet at the Rio Theatre on Nov. 16.

The duo also shared Offensive MVP and Best Offensive Back honors. Both players cemented a place in the Husky football record books this season.

Nichol finished his career with 3,490 passing yards, the most of any quarterback in Sweet Home history.

His 264 points puts him fifth alltime among Huskies. His 16 passing touchdowns his junior year was tied for the fourth most all-time, and the 14 he threw this year was tied for the seventh most all-time.

Nichols finished with the most receiving yards in Sweet Home history, with 1,585 on 77 catches. His 77 receptions places him second on the all-time list. His 44 receptions this year is tied for the most all-time in a single season. His 741 receiving yards this season was the third most all-time, and his 649 yards last season the sixth most.

Head Coach Ryan Adams said. “It’s pretty cool when you see a name that you’re around take the top spot, and we had two of them this year do that at their respective positions.”

The team award recipients were chosen by the players themselves.

“They got so many votes and were so close that we just decided that we’re going to give both these guys the awards for all three of these categories,” Adams said. “Their playmaking ability speaks for itself. If you came and watched us Friday, there were some phenomenal games and phenomenal plays that these two created. They were our guys day in and day out.”

Throughout the season, Nichol showed a remarkable ability to turn brokedown plays into positive yardage. “At our all-league meeting, Junction City’s coach referred to him as a chicken, kind of just running around out there, super hard to catch, and just keeping things alive,” Adams said of Nichol.

But it was a character trait of Nichol that most resonated with Sweet Home’s head play caller.

“The thing that has really stuck out to me the most with Heath the last four years is his ability to celebrate others,” Adams said. “I think that’s a phenomenal quality. I have not seen very many kids who go out of their way to celebrate others, and not necessarily the other guys playing with him on a Friday, but maybe that freshman or sophomore kid at practice. He took those kids under his wing.”

Nichol was named Second Team All-League at the quarterback position in 4A’s Special District 3.

Adams said that what stood out to him about Nichols was “his ability to have a smile on his face 95% of the time.” He also cited the quality of his play against two higher ranked opponents.

“His performance at Junction City was really cool to watch, as well as his performance at Marist,” the coach said of Nichols. “He’s an impressive football player.”

Nichols was named First Team All-League as a receiver, an honor he received last year as well.

“I want to stress how difficult it is to do something like this in back to back years, because so many times when you step onto a field after you have so much success against a team, they’re going to key in on you,” said Assistant Coach Keegan Holly.

“Almost every time we stepped on the field, he had two or three defenders eyes on him the entire game. But instead of getting frustrated in those short stints when his touches would drop, he’d understand that he was creating opportunities for his teammates. He just went into drilling the details and getting better and better at the little things.

“Even though there were two or three defenders on him, we all saw he only needed an inch of space to have a chance to score a touchdown,” Holly continued. “He went to work on the details of how to get that inch of space and continue to make those plays. We saw him never stop in that improvement, and I think that he will continue to do that, as I hope that he decides to keep playing at the next level.”

Junior Nathan Aker won Defensive MVP, as well as Best Defensive Lineman and Best Offensive Lineman.

Assistant Coach Cy Maughmer said of Aker, “This kid’s a competitor and a difference maker. Whenever he’s in the game we notice, and

whenever he’s not in the game we notice.

“When he first came here his freshman year, it was really tough to get him in the weight room and kind of tough to get him in the offseason stuff,” Maughmer recalled. “I didn’t really know a whole lot about him or who he was at all. Now he’s getting a little bit chippy with me, competing with me every morning, pushing me and making me do more on my squat than I want to, showing up every single day and putting in the work.”

Aker was also named a First Team All-League defensive lineman, as well as an Honorable Mention on the offensive line.

“His work ethic and the intangibles that you can’t teach just makes coaching really fun,” Assistant Coach Josh Huffman said of Aker. “He has the mental and the physical, and he has that dog in him like he says.”

Sophomore linebacker Kayo Ebbs won Best Defensive Back. Assistant Coach Will Coltrin said of Ebbs, “It was really hard for me to take him off the field. He turned into one of the best linebackers that we have out there, being able to read and fly up and make plays.

“I’m really excited about the next two years that I’m going to have with him, pairing him up with [Ryker] Hartsook when he comes back fully healthy (Hartsook missed all but one game this season due to a broken arm).”

Ebbs was named an Honorable Mention linebacker. Seniors Jacob Sieminski and Evan Jensen also received Honorable Mention honors, at the defensive back and offensive line positions, respectively.

Assistant Coach Gavin Nichol said of Sieminski “We weren’t sure if we were going to have this kid this year. He ran a little bit last year with cross country, and we had to do some convincing to get him to come to play with us. And I’m very glad that he did, because he had his side locked down for the majority of the season.”

Huffman said of Jensen, “His growth over the past football season from the beginning to the end was honestly amazing to watch. I was really proud of him.”

Senior wide receiver and defensive back Von James won the team’s Most Inspirational award.

Holly said “I thought this was a really cool award, because all of your teammates sat down and decided that you were the person who inspired them the most day to day. I think that’s really important.”

He added that James “was one of our leaders, and one of the most important things as a leader is how the people you’re leading respond to you. I think throughout the year, nonstop, our team fed off of this guy’s energy. He did so much for us, and even on the field in terms of scheme, he did so much for us selling out to open up his teammates.

“I can think of so many touchdowns that Brady got, so many of those record breaking yards that happened because Von was working his tail off to get him open, and working his tail off to block for his teammates.

“And we really saw that translate into the plays he was making toward the end of the year, when he was really starting to get more explosive and take carries for more yards.”

The Most Improved award went to junior lineman Conner Rundell.

“I didn’t really know what to think about him when I first saw him,” Maughmer said of Rundell. “He was really tall and skinny and told me he was on a low carb diet. As a defensive lineman, I really didn’t know what that meant exactly.”

Maughmer went on to say that, “He turned out to be really strong and tough. He has quick, great two steps, and he did a really good job holding it down for us this year on the defensive line.”

The team’s Practice Players of the Year were junior wide receivers Jayce Miller, Deacon Bachand, Kyle Sieminski and Gavin Grabeel.

“Practice players are the unsung heroes,” Coach Nichol said. “When we needed an outside backer, they jumped in there and were giving it their all, even though they don’t play outside backer, so our scout teams would be better for our starting team to get a good look.”

Reflecting on the season as a whole, in which the Huskies finished 3-6 and sixth out of seven teams in Special District 3, Adams said “We had some really good wins this year, some really competitive games, and some tough losses. But at the end of the day, we’re just all about getting better.”

He said compared to last year, the team’s defense gave up less points per game and forced more turnovers, and the offense increased passing and rushing yards and had more rushing touchdowns and less turnovers.

“All of those things look towards getting better,” Adams said. “There were a lot of lessons learned from both the players and us as a coaching staff, but ultimately we had a lot of fun. And that’s kind of one of the more important things.”

He said that “It’s a great group of kids to be around. It was a lot of fun for me, and I think our coaching staff enjoyed most of the time.”