Football got him through boot camp

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 2, 2014

 Red Level senior AJ Nicholson spent his summer at basic training at Ft. Jackson in South Carolina

Red Level senior AJ Nicholson spent his summer at basic training at Ft. Jackson in South Carolina

For Red Level nose guard A.J. Nicholson, failure isn’t an option.

While doing push ups with his knuckles on an ordinary day at basic training for the U.S. Army at Ft. Jackson in South Carolina, Nicholson suffered a stress fracture in one of his wrists.

Nicholson was encouraged to got to the medics, where he knew he was going to be sent home.

The senior wasn’t about to accept failure. He decided to stay, and ended up graduating from basic training, returning home just in time for Meet the Tigers more than two weeks ago.

The decision to go ahead and get basic over with in high school was one that swam around in his mind for a while, Nicholson said.

“I’ve been contemplating being in the Army for a while and I kind of wanted to do something,” he said. “I figured I could do it in high school. The thing was was that they wanted me to do it during the summer time. I kind of didn’t want to do it at first because that would mean I would be away from my team. I was kind of nervous about doing it.”

Nicholson said he talked with his fellow RLS teammates and they encouraged him to go to basic training.

For 10 weeks, Nicholson’s routine basically included getting up at 4 a.m. and then 30 minutes later, running five miles. Then, he’d eat and do something constructive, like “throwing grenades.” The constructive task changed each day.

“Going through basic training is like; I thought of it as like big football,” Nicholson said.

When asked what it was like, Nicholson said he got the chance to meet a lot of people from different walks of life, but what really helped him get through it was football.

“All I did was talk about football,” he said. “It would help me get through the day because we talked about football teams. On phone day, I’d pull up my Hudl (highlights) and say hey, remember when I told you what I did? A lot of people didn’t believe that I played because I was so small. I pulled up my Hudl and they were like, ‘Snap! You’ve got to add me.’”

Even when he got the chance to talk to his mother, La’Keesha Dexter, on phone days, Nicholson said he’d talk to her for 10 minutes of the 20 allotted and then spend the rest watching football on his phone.

Now that he’s back home, the transition back to civilian life has been a little “frustrating,” he said.

“Everything went from running a tight ship to when I came back, everything’s kind of relaxed,” Nicholson said. “I get kind of frustrated looking at it. I had to be patient with some players. Some players don’t understand, whether they want to (or not).

“That was one thing with my basic training, you can’t do what you want to,” he said. “It takes a lot of patience and besides that it’s just waking up every morning. I’ve got to find my things. Usually, I would have everything everywhere. While I was at basic training, everything was at a set spot.”

Nicholson and the Tigers played in their season opener last week against J.U. Blacksher to get the 2014 campaign going.

While transitioning back to normal life may have been rough, getting back in the swing of things on the gridiron hasn’t been easy either, the senior said.

“It was kind of hard because at first I felt a little out of place,” Nicholson said. “I’ve been on my team since the sixth grade and I even tried to play varsity playing in the sixth grade. I think of it as syncing your phone to your computer. Once your phone is on the computer for a while, you get out of sync with it. The one thing I’ve been working on the past two weeks is getting back in sync with my team.”

Nicholson’s mom said she’s extremely proud of her son for graduating basic.

“Before AJ left, I told him that God will always be with him, that he’ll never be alone,” Dexter said. “I told him to pray and begin the countdown — that he’d be home before he knew it.”

Nicholson is the son of La’Keesha and Michael Dexter of Red Level.