Aug. 30, 1999
Notre Dame senior inside linebacker Ronnie Nicks has dreamed of playing college football for as long as he can remember.
Four years ago that dream became a reality and Nicks came to Notre Dame. However, after three years with the Irish, his real dreams remain to be played out.
Fighting off injury after injury and the accompanying doubt that develops, Nicks is back in pads for the ’99 campaign and is as healthy as he has been since coming to Notre Dame.
Despite playing only 62 combined minutes in his first three seasons, he is the most experienced linebacker on the team. Nicks has invested a great deal of his time in the weightroom during the off-season, and his current weight of 245 pounds is the largest he has ever been. Nicks’ desire to get on the field and help his team is what drives him to put in the extra hours.
“As a middle linebacker, and a senior, I feel that I should be a leader,” says Nicks. “In order to do that, I need to be in on every snap.”
The Irish coaching staff hopes Nicks is capable of seeing more playing time this season – both for himself and the team. Notre Dame assistant head coach Kirk Doll, who works with Nicks and the inside linebackers, wants nothing more than to see the native of Kilgore, Texas, remain healthy and have a great season.
“Ronnie has an opportunity to have a great season,” says Doll. “He has that opportunity because he has worked so hard. Our biggest concern about Ronnie is his durability and that concern was erased last spring when he played extremely well. He also provided a great deal of leadership for the defense during the spring.”
Head coach Bob Davie, who was the Irish defensive coordinator when Nicks came in as a freshman in 1996, feels Nicks can and will be a strong contributor.
“Ronnie Nicks has shown in the past that when he is healthy he can be a key contributor to this football team. There is no question he has a lot of natural ability and can be an impact player,” says Davie.
The reason these coaches have such high praise for the 6-0, 245-pound linebacker is not just because of his performance in practice and in the weightroom. In the limited action he has seen, he has been outstanding. When the Irish played at Michigan in 1997, he had eight tackles and caused two fumbles against the eventual national champion. The problem for Nicks is that he just has not stayed healthy.
As a sophomore, he started four games for the injured Bobbie Howard before tearing the cartilage in his right knee against Pittsburgh. As a junior, he had to deal with a sore neck for the majority of the season, keeping him out of three games and limiting him to only 28 minutes the entire year.
After the ’99 Gator Bowl, head athletic trainer and physical therapist Jim Russ gave Nicks the option to seek surgery on his knee to remove more cartilage right away or try and play spring ball and seek surgery after the spring game.
Nicks decided to wait and went through winter training, spring football and won the starting job – despite running around on a knee with torn cartilage in it.
The Sunday after the spring game, Nicks had surgery on his knee for a second time in as many years. However, this time he had the entire summer to rehabilitate it.
Russ was amazed by the determination shown by Nicks to return.
“The surgery showed that the cartilage was extremely chewed up,” says Russ. “That proved to me even more, what kind of a tough, hard-nosed individual you are dealing with in Ronnie.”
Along with Russ, the coaching staff noticed the effort Nicks was giving and understood how much pain he was in.
“He has a great desire to show his teammates how much he wants to be out there, and they are responding to that effort,” says Doll.
Russ feels confident that Nicks’ hard work has paid off.
“I think the education Ronnie gained from his previous injuries will allow him to stay healthy this year,” says Russ. “Ronnie was very serious about rehabilitating this injury.”
Any doubt that he will succeed this year can put to rest – according to Nicks.
“My injuries are over and they are in my past,” says Nicks. “It is important that I avoid dwelling on those years and instead direct my focus toward this season.”
Notre Dame senior inside linebacker Ronnie Nicks is the most experienced linebacker on the Irish team in ’99 and is looking for an injury-free season.
by Michael Lehner