Jaylen Nichols waited two years to finally join South Carolina football.
The 6-foot-4, 310-pounder was one of the earlier commits to South Carolina’s class. He was part of a strong program and a top team as a senior. And one factor that made him a Gamecock commit brought him home as a recruit.
“They’ve been very honest with me,” Nichols said. “That’s really what I like. They’ve been straightforward all the time.”
He did something unusual for an SEC offensive tackle recruit at the high school level. Most top tackles end up on the left side, protecting the back of their quarterback.
The Myers Park coaching staff kept Nichols on the right side. That might have paid off to a degree, as he opened his first spring in Columbia on the right.
“Our left tackle is going to Marshall, so it’s not like we struggled on that side,” Myers Park coach Scott Chadwick said. “We just kind of decided we wanted our best run-blocking guard and our best run-blocking tackle on the same side. Kind of felt like the guy that played that position at guard was better suited on the right. So we wanted him and Jaylen together.”
It didn’t hurt that his quarterback, Drake Maye (younger brother of UNC basketball star Luke Maye), liked to have that extra measure of protection from the front.
Nichols said at the start of his high school career, he felt he was slow, uncoordinated and not as strong as he’d like to be. He closed high school as a player who could bench 330 pounds and squat 480, though a rotator cuff injury limited him for parts of his career.
He also posted a 30-inch vertical leap, despite a strained hamstring, according to Gamecocks assistant Eric Wolford, a strong measure of explosiveness.
Chadwick said Nichols comes in “naturally extremely strong” andmoves well for his size. He said the lineman might be strong enough to play guard in college, but it seems USC has no plans to do that.
“He kind of epitomizes kind of the gentle giant,” Chadwick said. “He’s a very quiet kid. Doesn’t say a whole lot. Never in any trouble, not a troublemaker, good kid. Comes from a good family. Mom is a real good lady. As a football player, he is a dominant right tackle for us this year. The thing about him is he’s very well-rounded.”
He did enough to impress Wolford and Will Muschamp early on. He opened practice as the team’s No. 2 right tackle. That’s notable because offensive linemen usually take a while to come along, and a freshman in the two-deep is a rarity.
Muschamp praised his punch and movement skills. Wolford focused on his upside and his family, saying they’d prepared him well for the rigors of college football.
Nichols’ father played line in high school, and his grandfather played for N.C. Central.
He was a part of an offense that averaged 343.1 yards per game and made it to the state semifinals in North Carolina. He’d played defense as a junior, but was on offense only through most of his final year, at least until the playoffs.
Chadwick said Nichols played almost every snap of the team’s state second-round game, 75 percent of the snaps in the quarterfinal and all of the first half of a semifinal loss before the shoulder sidelined him.
Nichols said he came away pleased with that final year and felt he perfected his play at right tackle.
He turned down some interest from UNC after he committed. He liked the message he was hearing from USC. They promised their O-line would improve, and it did. They promised the team would improve, and in Muschamp’s first two seasons, it did.
And he built a bond with Muschamp. Chadwick said every period where a coach could drop by, one of Muschamp, Bobby Bentley and Wolford would make the trip.
Now Nichols has been handed off from his family, the one Wolford spoke so highly of, to Wolford himself. Nichols sees a family bond there too.
“That’s like my dad away from home,” Nichols said. “That’s what he said.
“He’s kept his promises so far.”