By Matt Keller
For the seventh time in the past eight years, a West Virginia native has been named the Tommy Nickolich Award winner as the walk-on member who has distinguished himself through attitude and work ethic.
Long snapper Nick Meadows, a redshirt senior from Williamstown High, was honored with the award, presented annually by the Blue & Gold News, prior to the Gold-Blue Spring game on April 15. The award is named in memory of Tom Nickolich, a former WVU player (1979-82) from Fairmont, W.Va., who died of cancer in 1983. The award is in its 27th season.
A two-year letterman, Meadows appeared in all 13 games for WVU last season, handling the snapping duties on field goal, punts and extra points while being named the special teams champion in the victory against BYU. Meadows had no errant snaps, and also earned academic All-Big 12 second-team honors.
“Being a walk-on is a tremendous opportunity,” said Meadows, whose high school, located outside Parkersburg along the Ohio River, has an enrollment of 630. “This doesn’t happen very often where I am from, that you have a chance to play at a place like West Virginia. Coming here is a huge honor. I’ve set my sights for being the best walk-on I can, doing the best I can. Being able to receive this award is an amazing honor.”
Respected for being among the hardest workers in the weight room, Meadows has managed to hold down a position long noted for its sheer size of players. At 5-foot-11, 218 pounds, Meadows routinely contends with opposing players four to five inches taller and 70 pounds heavier, while also having to show pinpoint accuracy on his snaps. It requires a rare blend of a unique skill, strength, mental fortitude and the humbleness to understand the spotlight will never shine on the position other than when there’s a mistake.
But Meadows has long toiled far outside the limelight, first as a reserve behind John DePalma, then over the past couple seasons when he has seen action.
“There’s a blue-collar mentality with it,” said Meadows, who was a three-year letterwinner and an all-state second-team Class A offensive lineman at Williamstown. “You have to stick to the process and have that belief, that hope that you can do it. Keep working your butt off every single day, regardless of whether you have a scholarship or not.
“The award is a blessing to receive, and it’s something I have been working toward. It’s something I have wanted, and really tried to show that I’d do my best. It gives younger walk-ons, younger kids something to look up to with the people that receive that award. I’d like to for people to see me that way. It’s a good feeling.”
A sport and exercise psychology major, Meadows has won over his teammates, who have provided glowing reviews of the nose-to-the-grindstone approach, as well as his progress in the strength and conditioning program.
“Nick’s actually a really strong kid for his size,” WVU placekicker Mike Molina said. “He has been trying to get in a lot better shape than he was last year, so he is a lot faster, too. Nick has been one of the strongest kids in the weight room for awhile, especially pound-for-pound. He’s always been like that, and he’s always had that ‘don’t quit’ attitude.
“Nick has been my long snapper since I was first here,” added Molina, a fifth-year senior from Hurricane, W.Va. “With that, the timing with him has always been great and our chemistry has always been awesome. When Billy (Kinney) came a year later, he has been my holder, so we have all been together for three to four years now, and this is our third spring all together as a unit. We are awesome together timing-wise, and I can trust Billy and Nick out there. I never have a doubt with those two.”
Indeed, Meadows was a part of a unit that connected on 16-of-24 field goals last season, including 15-of-22 off the foot of Molina. The longest was a 50-yarder just before the half in the regular season finale’ against Baylor, a career-long for Molina that would eventually provide the margin difference in the 24-21 win. The kick helped seal West Virginia’s ninth ever 10-win season in 125 years of football, and put the capper on a season that saw the Mountaineers finish third in the Big 12.
Kinney, in his first season as the starting punter, handled 59 kicks and averaged 41.7 yards per punt with a long of 63. He had seven punts of 50 yards or more and 17 that pinned the opposition inside the 20-yard line.
“It’s a pretty good relationship,” Kinney said of working with Meadows. “(The kickers) work with him all the time. Especially because I am holding too, we are always with them. A field goal takes about 1.2 seconds from snap to kick, so everything happens really fast. You just have to get into a rhythm, and getting all of the technique down really helps out. That and having really good hands and knowing where the laces are when you catch the ball. Nick helps out with all that.”
Meadows said the in-game transitions are the most difficult, from snapping for punts to field goals in what is perhaps a matter of minutes.
“There’s two muscle memories involved, the punt snap and the field goal snap,” Meadows said. “You don’t want to go out there for a punt snap and still be in the field goal snap mode, so getting used to the difference is big. On a game day, I am going to take Billy, and as soon as we get the ball on offense, I start practicing punt snaps. If we get in field goal range or close to field goal range, Billy, since he is also the holder, will get down a knee and catch field goal snaps. Billy is the best holder I have ever seen, right up there with Mike Molinari. Molinari used to be able to catch it one-handed. Both of them make all the snaps look good because they catch it so effortlessly and put it down.”
Meadows has concentrated on slimming down a stout frame this offseason in order to increase his speed and coverage ability. With somewhat limited size, Meadows’ best asset aside from his consistency on the snap is his ability to navigate traffic and make tackles on the return. He made two stops last season, the first coming against Texas Tech in what amounted to his first live hit since his days as a Yellow Jacket.
“I don’t ever get to tackle anyone until game day, really,” he noted. “In practice we don’t get to do anything close to tackling. So I go out there on game day and I just want to try and make that tackle. I made two last year, and that first one was my first tackle since high school. You are not used to hitting people. You’re not used to knocking heads and running down there at full speed. It’s pretty hard, but I think I do a good job with my strength. That makes up for some of the weight that I lost.
“Blocking on field goals versus running down for punts, I’ve definitely gotten a lot faster, I feel like,” Meadows added. “I’ve lost a little bit of weight, and that has made me a lot faster on my feet. It’ll help me get down there and make a couple more tackles this year, hopefully.
“The ultimate goal is just putting that ball on the right hip really. This time last year, it was pretty much the same. I just focus on staying consistent. Putting the ball in the same spot. That’s really the biggest deal with it.”
Tommy Nickolich Memorial Award
The Tommy Nickolich Memorial Award is presented every spring by the Blue & Gold News to a walk-on member of the Mountaineer football team who distinguished himself with his attitude and work ethic. The award is presented in memory of Tommy Nickolich, a former WVU player (1979-82) who died of cancer in 1983. The winner is selected each spring by the Mountaineer coaching staff.
YEAR WINNER POS 1991 Keith Taparausky RB 1992 Ray Wilcox LB 1993 Matt McCulty WR 1994 Randy Fulmore DB 1995 Rob Keys DB 1996 Matt Ceresa OL 1997 David Lightcap DB 1998 Matt Corman TE 1999 Bryan Lorenz LB 2000 Ben Collins LB 2001 Jeremy Knapp TE 2002 Moe Fofana FB 2003 John Pennington WR 2004 Jeff Noechel, LB LB 2005 George Shehl DB 2006 Tim Lindsey LS 2007 Andy Emery LB 2008 Adam Hughes LS 2009 Josh Taylor DL 2010 Matt Lindamood FB 2011 Ryan Nehlen WR 2012 Tyler Anderson LB 2013 Connor Arlia WR 2014 Michael Calicchio OL 2015 Jon Lewis DL 2016 Nick Meadows LS