Matt Nichols showed the way to the CFL for Bo Levi Mitchell and Vernon Adams Jr.
Nichols was a superstar at Eastern Washington University. He passed for 12,616 yards with 96 touchdowns against just 46 interceptions while starting a school-record 47 games. That’s the most passing yards in program and Big Sky Conference history and ranks sixth all-time in the NCAA.
Prior to leaving Eastern Washington following the 2009 season, Nichols played a recruiting role in head coach Beau Baldwin landing Mitchell who transferred from Southern Methodist University. Nichols set the example and Mitchell did the same with Adams Jr. years later. All three man used Cheney, Washington, population 12,000, as a launch pad to pro careers.
After recovering from a devastating ankle injury and torn ACL, Nichols produced at a high level in the Canadian Football League. Based on his college numbers and film, the ability to be a true No. 1 starter was there. He just needed to avoid bad luck and stay on the field.
Winnipeg was where Nichols started winning in many ways. The Bombers traded a conditional seventh-round CFL draft pick for the man who set the franchise on a championship track. Winnipeg missed the playoffs in four straight years until Nichols took over the starting job from Drew Willy.
Four years prior to Nichols
Four years with Nichols
General manager Kyle Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea built the foundation and Nichols was the key ingredient in the culture change within the locker room. Winning went from an afterthought to an expectation with Nichols.
Zach Collaros and Chris Streveler are hailed as Grey Cup heroes — rightfully so — but there would not have been a parade in the Manitoba capital without Nichols. The Bombers were first place in the West Division at 6-2 through eight games prior to his season-ending shoulder injury. Collaros wasn’t even on the team and Streveler was Winnipeg’s short yardage specialist.
Win number seven was credited to Nichols and Winnipeg went 4-5 to finish the season with him on the sidelines. Collaros quickly gained the confidence of the group, guiding the Bombers to their first CFL title since 1990, finishing what Nichols started.
The entire direction of the Bombers’ franchise charted a new course when Nichols took the controls. That’s exactly what the Boatmen are counting on after signing him as a free agent in February 2020. The last time Nichols was fully healthy following a major setback he left his mark, which will last forever as a champion in Winnipeg.
That’s what makes Nichols one of the elite talents in the three-down league.
3DownNation is unveiling its list of the top 100 active CFL players, a project that will run through December 31, 2020. To read the criteria for player eligibility, click here. The list to date can be found below.
63. DB Jamar Wall, Calgary Stampeders
64. DB Loucheiz Purifoy, Saskatchewan Roughriders
65. REC Lemar Durant, B.C. Lions
66. OL Brendon LaBatte, Saskatchewan Roughriders
67. OL SirVincent Rogers, Ottawa Redblacks
68. QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson, Free Agent
69. DB/RET Frankie Williams, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
70. DB T.J. Lee, B.C. Lions
71. QB Zach Collaros, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
72. SAM Anthony Cioffi, Free Agent
73. DB Shaquille Richardson, Toronto Argonauts
74. REC Kamar Jorden, Calgary Stampeders
75. OL Darius Ciraco, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
76. REC Jalen Saunders, Free Agent
77. QB Dane Evans, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
78. REC Brad Sinopoli, Ottawa Redblacks
79. RET Janarion Grant, Free Agent
80. DE Avery Ellis, Ottawa Redblacks
81. DE Cordarro Law, Calgary Stampeders
82. DB Brandon Alexander, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
83. OL Jermarcus Hardrick, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
84. DB Branden Dozier, Free Agent
85. SAM Otha Foster, Saskatchewan Roughriders
86. DB Antoine Pruneau, Ottawa Redblacks
87. RB John White, B.C. Lions
88. LB Avery Williams, Ottawa Redblacks
89. LB Jovan Santos-Knox, Free Agent
90. DB Richard Leonard, Calgary Stampeders
91. REC Armanti Edwards, Edmonton Football Team
92. RB C.J. Gable, Free Agent
93. DT Mike Rose, Calgary Stampeders
94. REC S.J. Green, Free Agent
95. DB Mike Edem, Saskatchewan Roughriders
96. DE John Bowman, Montreal Alouettes
97. DB Taylor Loffler, Montreal Alouettes
98. QB Nick Arbuckle, Ottawa Redblacks
99. ST Mike Miller, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
100. DE Chris Casher, B.C. Lions