July 12, 2006

VIDEO: Nichol, Lowell carve up Downers Grove

ALLENDALE, Mich. - Lowell High School coach Noel Dean never turns down the chance to give his team a good test during the summer. So when he was presented with the opportunity to play Downer's Grove in a 7 on 7 in Lowell's own backyard, Dean naturally accepted.

Downer's Grove, a powerhouse program from Illinois, was in West Michigan for the Grand Valley State University July football camp. Lowell, which earlier this summer made it all the way to the semifinals at Notre Dame's 7 on 7 tournament, was eager for another chance to test itself against a top-notch opponent.

"We've always made it a point to play the best possible teams," said Dean, who has coached the Red Arrows to two state titles in the past four seasons. "Anytime you can play against good programs, it is only going to help you during the season."

Downer's Grove didn't give Lowell much of a fight, as Michigan State commitment Keith Nichol carved up the opposing defense with a red-hot start. Nichol completed 19 of his first 20 passes in his first two shifts. Lowell receivers began to drop balls during the third shift, but the future Spartan and his receivers bounced back with a strong finish.

"I think the start was the good," said Dean. "Keith was on, and our receivers were catching the ball well. We were able to do pretty much whatever we wanted to do out there."

Nichol also played with the first-team defense at cornerback. Nichol will play safety this fall. But lining up at corner gives Nichol the opportunity work on his man-to-man coverage skills.

The opportunity to play on defense is something that Nichol would normally jump on in a heartbeat. But after two straight days of zipping the ball at the Michigan State July football camp and rising early for voluntary 6:00 A.M. workouts with his high school teammates, Nichol said he was feeling tired.

"My legs were really burning when I was playing corner," he said. "I just had to force myself to play through the fatigue."

Even though he was tired, Nichol showed strong athleticism at corner. Only one receiver caught a pass against him. That receiver caught the ball on an underneath route and Nichol immediately tapped him down.

Nichol didn't show noticeable fatigue when he was throwing the ball at Grand Valley. He threw the ball with plenty of heat and squeezed the ball into the tightest of places with passes that other quarterback would not have dreamed of attempting.

Nichol made sure all of his receivers got the ball. But no-one got the ball more than Nichol's go-to receiver Mike McElroy. McElroy, who has heard from some MAC schools this fall, is one of the more underrated prospects in the Class of 2007.

Like Nichol, McElroy will be a three-year starter this fall. He has shown consistent improvement each year and McElroy has become Lowell's playmaker at receiver and defensive back.

McElroy has worked his tail off in the weight room during the off season. The results are noticeable, as the Lowell captain appears faster and stronger than he was as a junior.

"As a good a football player as Mike is, he is an ever better person," Dean said. "All of the elementary kids that want look up to the football players always want to grow up to be like Keith Nichol or Mike McElroy."


Nichol overcame the fatigue of a 6:00 a.m. weight training session and a late night the previous evening at the Michigan State July football camp to put on a clinic during Lowell's 7 on 7 against Downer's Grove.

Nichol threw with velocity and accuracy to Lowell receivers, who showed good route-running ability.

Nichol rarely got beat on defense. If Nichol can stay healthy and play both sides of the ball, Lowell is going to be a legitimate contender this fall. Nichol played spot duty at safety last year. But he is a projected starter this season.

Spartanmag.com will have more film on Nichol and his Red Arrow teammates, including McElroy and sophomore Torsten Boss in the near future. Spartanmag.com will be in DeWitt on Friday watching Nichol in action against some of the top teams in the Lansing area.

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