FAYETTEVILLE — Former Springdale High School standout Isaiah Nichols is set to begin his third season at the University of Arkansas.
Nichols redshirted in 2018 then played in all 12 games last fall. He finished with 17 tackles, including seven solo, one for loss and 0.5 sack.
Nichols, 6-3, 281, has worked to improve and possibly get more playing time this season.
“You know I feel like I’m getting a lot better than last season,” Nichols said. “But I still have some things in my game that … my pass rush. I’ve got to work on my pass rush. I really have got to work on everything. Especially playing in this conference with the offensive lines and the teams we face. I feel like I’m trying to work on myself all around. But I think trying to become more valuable on third downs would definitely help with my play.”
The first-team line at this time is Julius Coates and Dorian Gerald at defensive ends with Xavier Kelly and Jonathan Marshall inside. Nichols is among those trying to make a push inside.
“I think we played pretty solid all the way around,” Nichols said. “You know mostly I focus on how I play and how I can be better and how I can go into the game. Everyone that we put in wants to be able to play like a starter. So that’s what I’m focused on. I’m not worried about how much better they are than me, I’m focused on myself.”
Nichols feels that Friday’s scrimmage was one of the hardest practices he has had since arriving at Arkansas.
“I would say today was definitely one of the harder practices I’ve been in,” Nichols said Friday. “It was very physical and I like that a lot. Because with good teams you need to be physical in the trenches. They don’t call it the trenches for no reason. I think today was definitely challenging. I learned a lot about myself and I’m ready to grow and get better and attack the next practice we have.”
Nichols described some of Friday’s practice and while a hard one, it should prove to be very productive.
“We went out there and worked hard,” Nichols said. “It was the first scrimmage of fall camp. Guys are gonna be tired. We’ve got to get back in shape. Get in football shape. There’s no amount of training that can put you in football shape. We were just out there competing on both sides of the ball. It was a tough one, but we got through it. I don’t we just got through it, but got better. That’s over with now so now we’re on to next week and what we can better at on Monday.”
It appears there’s a different vibe around the team this year with Sam Pittman as head coach. Is that true and if so in what ways?
“I feel like growth,” Nichols said. “We’ve grown a lot. We’ve been given the freedom to be men. To be able to learn how to do things because it’s what is best for us. We have done a lot of growing….mentally and physically and guys getting way more athletic. That’s a big credit to this coaching staff they’ve been with us in every situation every step of the way. We’re going through this Corona stuff and now we had the meeting today about injustice, racial injustice. It’s system oppression. I think the biggest thing is just trust between coaches and players. As a team we’ve grown closer together because of that.”
What have you worked on the most in camp so far?
”I just want to be the best possible player I can be,” Nichols said. “I’m not — I don’t know the stats and this and that the numbers that I’m going to achieve, but I do know I’m working hard to be the best that I can. I just want to be valuable for this team. I just want to be undeniable. I want to have a position that’s undeniable to be on the field, like you know what I’m saying. I just want to give to this team all that I can give. Whatever comes of that, comes of that.”
Arkansas will return to the practice fields today.