In today’s high school landscape, the true multi-sport standout has become a rarity. The focus on one varsity sport such as football or baseball, along with the increased focus on non-school related commitments such as AAU basketball/volleyball and club soccer, has made the accomplishments by Gateway Senior Montae Nicholson all the more impressive.
You see Nicholson is not just a standout football player who will be moving on this fall to Michigan State University to play for the Spartans, he’s also arguably the best overall male track athlete not only in the WPIAL, but the entire state of Pennsylvania. He’s so good in fact, some will tell you that is his best sport. He’s so good that Michigan State will be getting not only one of the highest rated football prospects in the country, they will be getting one of the top hurdlers too.
Thats because Nicholson plans on doing both sports in college, and never felt that he had to choose one sport over the other in order to achieve success at Gateway. According to Nicholson, it was the support from a lot of different people that has made it possible.
“I had a lot of support along the way to make it work. Whether it was my teachers keeping me on point with my classwork, or coaches being willing to accept that I was going to do different sports, I was able to do it all. I always made schoolwork my top priority, and my Mom always made sure to remind me that was most important.”
Nicholson’s Mom, Jackie Crawford, is more than just his Mom, she also happens to be Nicholson’s event coach, along with being his biggest fan. Crawford, a member of the Robert Morris Athletics Hall of Fame, was a tremendous hurdler herself, and got her son involved in Track very early on. “Montae started getting serious about track in 7th grade, according to Crawford, we’ve butted heads from time to time over the years, but he’s very coachable, and we have always done a good job of separating the parent/son aspect of things from the athlete/coach part.”
Nicholson totally agreed. “My Mom is great because she knows what works and there have been times where I have needed to fix something with my technique, and she finds the best way to get it done. Nicholson continued, for example, recently the was a drill I was doing just was not working for me, and my Mom found one that did…Before I knew it, the problem was fixed”
Both Mom and son agree that there are some “ups and downs” working together and Crawford admits they’ve “had their moments” but in general things have always worked well.
There is quite a bit of evidence to support that. With additional coaching and support from Gateway sprints coach Jose Rivera, Nicholson has been a dominant performer on the track. Last season, Nicholson won WPIAL titles in the 110 High Hurdles and the 4×1 relay. He also won a PIAA title in the 4×1 and was PIAA runner up in the hurdles. This winter, Nicholson won a state championship in the 60 meter hurdles, all while playing basketball full time during the indoor season.
Yes, so if you want to get technical about it, Nicholson committed to four different sports during this school year. Something too many athletes seemingly miss out on in today’s world of “specialization of sport” Nicholson even noted that “all the other sports I did helped me a ton when it came to football, especially track”
Heading into the final two weeks of the Track season, including WPIAL Championships, which will be held Thursday at Baldwin High School, Nicholson has a chance to win three WPIAL titles, and will be among the favorites in multiple events at PA State Championships Memorial Day weekend. His top time in the 110 hurdles of 14.13 ranks second in the state. His long jump distance of 24 feet, 3.5 inches tops the state rankings, and Gateway’s 4×100 relay time of 41.79 is fractions of a second behind state leader, Cheltenham.
Could be some big things ahead for Nicholson, and its just the beginning.
Making the decision to commit and sign with Michigan State was a difficult one, but the combination of athletics and academics were a major factor in Nicholson’s decision. The opportunity to do both Track and Football did not hurt, and Michigan State made it clear Nicholson would be able to do both. Nicholson noted that “both the football and track staff were very enthusiastic and supportive of making it work”
Picking the Spartans over Florida State and Pitt was not easy, but after visiting East Lansing, and talking to various people connected to the program, Nicholson knew it was the right place. “I loved the coaches, and one of the biggest things I got from my time was talking to the players, not just the starters, but the players that were not getting playing time…Everyone was so positive about what was going on there, it was then I knew this was the right fit for me.”
Nicholson, ranked as one of the top defensive back prospects in the nation for the class of 2014, feels like he can play on either side of the ball, but loves playing safety. “The coaches told me they will give me a chance to play whatever position is the best fit, some think I could play receiver, but wherever they need me, ‘I’m going to work hard and be ready to contribute.”
As for Crawford, she “fully supported” her son’s decision to go to MSU, and it had to do with much more than athletics. “Academically, Michigan State was perfect, they have the program Montae wants to study, and the drive to East Lansing is not too far” which Crawford noted with a laugh.
Academics are important for Nicholson, and his 3.2 GPA and decision to pursue a degree in Engineering makes it clear that its not just about sports. “I have always loved building stuff since I was a kid, and I really enjoy my Honors Robotics class I’m taking at the moment…Right now, my plan is to either study Mechanical or Civil Engineering once I start school” according to Nicholson.
“I know I have to prepare for a future beyond sports and getting my education will open doors.” A mature and important observation by a young man who seems to get it, and after speaking with Nicholson and Crawford, there’s no question he’s learned these things in no small thanks to a coach, and Mom, who knows there’s more to life than athletics.
Without question, Montae Nicholson is a local athlete worth keeping an eye on, and from a personal standpoint, worth rooting for. It will be a lot of fun to see him take on the role of a multi sport athlete at Michigan State, but until then, look for big things from Nicholson on the track before he moves on.
Nicholson concluded, “The hope is with some help from my teammates, to win multiple WPIAL and PIAA championships” Its been the goal, so I am going to do my best to make it happen”
(Photo Credit: Pam Panchak/Post-Gazette)