As the Columbus Academy football team prepared to face visiting Whitehall in an MSL-Ohio Division matchup Sept. 22, senior Carson Nichols offered support to his teammates during the pregame warmup.
Nichols was expected to be a key lineman on both sides of the ball, but he was lost for the season after suffering a left ACL injury during a scrimmage Aug. 12 against Heath.
"He's amazing," coach Robin Miller said. "I called him the night we got the diagnosis and I'm upset and he was just so calm and mature about it. ... I'm the mature adult and a 17-year-old kid is the one comforting me.
"It was never about him. It was always about the team."
Nichols said he injured the knee in pursuit of the quarterback.
"I've never really had an issue with knee problems," he said. "It was just fluky. It was just out of nowhere. I had actually lost weight this season to become faster and play the spot at left tackle moving out from guard. It wasn't what I was expecting. I was in the best shape of my life. It was just something wild that happened."
Nichols had surgery Sept. 5, officially ending his football career with the Vikings. He attended the team's game against Newark Catholic on Sept. 8, offering support from a wheelchair, and hasn't missed a game since.
Nichols also is a heavyweight wrestler for the school, finishing 15-14 last season after going 0-2 in the Division III district tournament.
He said there is a slim chance he could return by late in the wrestling season, but most likely his prep wrestling career is done.
"It's going to be tough because we were really looking forward to this year with the wrestling program," Nichols said. "We upped our numbers to about 18 guys, so filling out all the weight classes was going to be our thing this year. We'll still have another heavyweight. Phillip Soderberg will wrestle heavyweight instead of myself.
"I intend to keep up my duties and be there for the guys, help out at practice and teach guys when they have questions or help instruct as much as I can."
Nichols said a more realistic goal is returning for his final track and field season, as he competes in the shot put and discus. He has been medically cleared to ride a bike and begin upper-body weightlifting.
He'd like to play football collegiately and is considering about nine Division III schools.
"The coaches have been really supportive and understanding," Nichols said. "They are looking forward to meeting me and looking forward to seeing how I do when I get back. They know it's kind of a fluky (injury) and I've had a pretty clean health record the rest of my career."
Academy improved to 4-1 overall and 1-1 in the MSL-Ohio with a 31-14 win over Whitehall.
The Vikings visit Bexley on Thursday, Sept. 28, looking to avenge a 28-14 loss to the Lions last season.
"(Having less time to prepare is) tough because everything is condensed and we have to get our bodies ready and our minds right and get a few things corrected, but it's Bexley, so that should make it easier to get the kids amped up and have a good short week of practice," Miller said.
Bexley won the league title last season at 6-0, ahead of second-place Academy (5-1).
The Lions have struggled this season, falling to 0-5 overall and 0-1 in the MSL-Ohio with a 49-0 loss to Grandview on Sept. 22.
"Bexley is our biggest rival and records are thrown out the window," Miller said. "It's one of the highlights of our schedule, so it should be a fun week. They have a history of success. Coach (John) Smith did such a good job building that team, building that culture. I know they lost a lot -- they graduated a huge class and they haven't had the success yet this year -- but the fundamentals are there."
Smith stepped down after last season and was replaced by Nathan Castorena.