Old Eskimo friends set to get after Bomber QB Matt Nichols

Matt Nichols will get another chance Thursday to establish himself as a starting quarterback in the CFL.

And staring across the line of scrimmage at him, hoping to blow it all up, will be one of his good friends.

“We’ve been friends since we were 18. That’s a decade now,” said Edmonton linebacker JC Sherritt after practice Wednesday at Commonwealth Stadium as the Eskimos (2-2) prepar to host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (1-4).

“But we’re both professionals. I guarantee you, if he sees me in a mismatch he’s going to try to embarrass me, and if I come around the edge I’m going to try and strip sack him and put him in the ground.”

Sherritt and Nichols go back to their college days, when both played for Eastern Washington and then were teammates on the Eskimos. They work out together in the off-season.

Nichols, backup to Drew Willy, was named the starter this week in a bid by Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea to inject some energy into an offence averaging under 20 points a game. Only Montreal is worse at 14.8 points per game.

Edmonton is familiar turf for the 29-year-old Nichols.

He began his CFL career with the Eskimos in 2010 before being traded last September to Winnipeg for a conditional draft pick after Willy went down with a season-ending leg injury.

Nichols’ time in Edmonton was star-crossed to say the least.

In the 2012 East Division semifinal Nichols tried to fight through a sack against the Toronto Argonauts, got bent backward and broke his leg and ankle.

Heading into training camp in 2013 he was rated equal with then-newcomer Mike Reilly for the starting job. But in his first pre-season game, Nichols threw an interception to Saskatchewan defensive back Carlos Thomas, then got his legs tangled up trying to tackle him. Nichols ripped up his right knee and was gone for the season.

In 2014 he was the backup, sharing playing time with a hobbled Reilly in the West division playoffs.

In 2015 he again got a chance to establish himself as a starter when Reilly went down with a knee injury in the first game of the season. Nichols was 5-2 as a starter but never seemed to have the confidence of then-head coach Chris Jones, who would pull him from the game, even when Edmonton was ahead.

In Winnipeg last year, he was 2-5 for a squad that finished 5-13. He completed 149 passes for 1,757 yards, with 10 TD passes and seven interceptions.

Thursday will be his first start in Edmonton since the trade.

He started against the Eskimos last October in Winnipeg, losing 24-23 on a last-second field goal.

Reilly, meanwhile, continues tearing up the league this year, leading all QBs with 10 TD passes and 1,580 yards passing.

Reilly said he had dinner with Nichols two weeks ago, when the Eskimos were in Winnipeg and defeated the Bombers 20-16.

The Eskimos quarterback said the two are tied over the vicissitudes of the game, building up a friendship in Edmonton in the film room, hour after hour, breaking down plays and spitballing strategy, providing emotional support through their respective knee injuries.

Reilly said even after the trade, they still keep in touch, texting or talking every couple of weeks.

“When you see a guy that works hard like Matt does you obviously instantly respect that. You want to surround yourself with people that are like that,” said Reilly, who wished Nichols well, with an asterisk.

“Hopefully he gets his feet wet and has a little bit of struggles on Thursday. And after that, I hope he plays great, until the next time we play him.”

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