Jason Nichols got to enjoy some brief free time off earlier this month. The Meadowcreek grad made it home to visit his family before taking a beach vacation.
With college football season around the corner, it's the last time he'll be able to sleep in late or take his fiancee out for a date. As an assistant football coach at the University Toledo, the next five months will be filled coaching, game planning and recruiting.
"Once August hits, there's not a lot of personal time until after Thanksgiving or Christmas," Nichols said. "But then you want to be playing in a bowl. I enjoy it and want to keep doing it."
Nichols is in his first season with Toledo after spending the last four years at Kent State University. He traded Mid-American Conference schools in February when Toledo hired Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Tim Beckham as its head coach.
"I just wanted a new opportunity," Nichols said of the change. "In our profession it's about networking and meeting new people. It's a good situation. I love Kent State, but the opportunity to see how things are done a different way was too good to turn down."
Nichols will handle the wide receivers at Toledo and will coach special teams. He also recruits the Gwinnett and Cobb County areas.
"The biggest part I enjoy is being on the field and seeing guys get better and grow," Nichols said. "I enjoy the X's and O's and scheming part, too. The recruiting part is tough because you have to really evaluate guys."
Nicholas was a three-year starter at Meadowcreek. As a sophomore in 1990, he led the Mustangs to a 6-4 record, the program's last winning season.
"We used to win a little more than they do now," Nichols said. "It was fun. A lot of great coaches I played for."
His senior season, he accounted for 1,745 all-purpose yards (900 passing, 845 rushing) and 15 TDs.
"That was before you had the spread stuff you have now," Nichols said. "In high school you always want to put the ball in your best player's hands and that's what they did."
Nichols went on recruiting visits to Ole Miss, N.C. State and Tulane, but decided to go with East Carolina. The Pirates were coming off a Peach Bowl win over N.C. State and were the only school to recruit him as a wide receiver and not a defensive back.
"I wanted to got a town where college football meant something and they were crazy about it," Nichols said.
After redshirting his freshman year, Nichols was a four-year starter. The Pirates were 30-7 during that time, which included wins over big programs at South Carolina, West Virginia, at Syracuse, at Miami and N.C. State. The 1995 team finished ranked in the top 25 after a Liberty Bowl win over Stanford.
"We were giant killers. We took pride playing those guys," Nichols said. "Nobody gave us a chance and that's the mentality we had."
Nichols caught an ECU career record 152 passes and the mark still stands today. His 1,557 receiving yards is seventh all-time.
After college Nichols played one season in the Canadian Football League and one year in the Arena Football League, but eventually decided to give up playing.
"It got to the point you realize professional sports is a meat market. It was to a point I was ready to move on," Nichols said.
He went back to ECU to work on his masters and was a graduate assistant with the football team when he decided to pursue coaching full time.
"Just looking at what these guys were doing, I was like, 'I can coach them up like anyone else,'" Nichols said. "But what I get out of it the most is building the relationships with the guys."
He spent one season with Sacred Heart, three years with Appalachian State and the last four seasons with Kent State. All the while he still managed to date his longtime girlfriend Nikki Howard, and the two will get married next summer.
"There's nothing else I want to do," Nichols said. "There's a lot of moving around, but that's to get you to where you want to be long term."
Nichols knows Toledo will likely not be his last stop in coaching. He'd love to return to East Carolina to coach and still has ambitions to coach in a BCS conference.
"I'm committed to Toledo. I have goals on where I want to be. I don't want to be in the MAC forever," Nichols said. "Like anyone else I'd love to coach in the SEC or ACC and have different opportunities. Coach Beckman has a great plan and new opportunities will arise."
SideBar: The Nichols File
Name: Jason Nichols
Current job: Assistant football coach at the University of Toledo
Education: Graduated from Meadowcreek in 1993; graduated from East Carolina University in 1998 with a degree in business administration
Background: Was a three-year starter at Meadowcreek; threw for 900 yards and seven touchdowns and rushed for 845 yards and eight TDs as a senior in 1992; signed with East Carolina University where he set the career receptions mark of 152, which still stands today; played one season in the Canadian Football League and Arena Football League; has been a college coach since 2001 and spent the last four years at Kent State University; was hired as Toledo's receivers coach in February.
Family: Engaged to Nikki Howard