By Jeff Nations -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Warren County rising senior Matthew Nicholson is one of those rare athletes every high school covets -- a three-sport standout, a difference maker whenever and wherever he competes.
During the fall, Nicholson might best be described as a home-run hitter. That sounds strange, considering baseball isn't one of Nicholson's chosen sports -- football, basketball and track -- but the description fits just as well for his play on the gridiron.
As a constant deep threat as at wide receiver, Nicholson is ready to make his third year of catching balls from longtime Wildcats starting quarterback Tyler Post his best yet this coming season.
"Me and Tyler have a very good relationship," Nicholson said. "Hopefully it carries on into the season."
Nicholson hauled in 14 receptions for 295 yards with an eye-popping 21.1 yards per average catch in 2011. He also had five touchdown receptions for Warren County last year.
His personal favorite, naturally, came against cross-town rival Skyline in the regular-season finale for both teams. With the Wildcats trailing 12-7 late in the fourth quarter, Nicholson beat tight coverage by leaping high to snare Post's heave to the sideline near the 1-yard-line before tumbling across the goal line for the go-ahead score in Warren County's eventual 13-12 victory.
That post route is where Nicholson thrives, although he won't be camping out there this season.
"They've got me playing all around this year," Nicholson said. "They're trying to get me all over to be my best, but I like the outside, streaking down the field."
Nicholson prefers playing offense, but Wildcats coach Tony Tallent thinks he's just as valuable -- if not more so -- on the defense as a free safety. Nicholson, a three-year starter at that spot, tallied three interceptions and 42 tackles last year.
"Matt closes out games," Tallent said. "When people have to throw deep, they're going to have to throw over or around or through him, and none of those are really good options. He goes and gets the ball, he's aggressive. He knows when the ball's in the air, he feels like it's his. I think it's his greatest strength.
"I think he's dynamic, how he goes after the football. His explosiveness, his ability to leap, he's not afraid to put [a helmet] on you. I really think he has great things to offer us in many ways. Not just as a cover guy, but also as a physical football player."
While Nicholson is solid as a guard on the basketball court and an accomplished jumper during track season, Tallent said he thinks the senior's future firmly belongs on the football field.
"I think he's going to be a great receiver or defensive back," Tallent said. "One of the great things when you recruit a guy like that is he can help you on both sides of the ball. It's just wherever you need him the most."
Nicholson isn't really thinking about what comes after his high school career -- he's keeping his focus on helping Warren County return to the Group AA playoffs again this season.
"Yeah, we're trying to duplicate last year, except go one step further this year," Nicholson said. "We're really balanced this year, offensively and defensively. We've got a lot of seniors out there to lead us."