All three have made their mark catching passes for the University of Nebraska-Kearney football team in the past few years. Another former Bison is hoping to add his name to the Loper list of pass catchers in the coming years.
Mark Nichols spent the past season as a redshirt freshman on the UNK football squad. The former McCook High School three-sport star will have three years of college eligibility left. He hopes to be a contributor at wide receiver for the Lopers next fall.
Nichols graduated from McCook in 2010 after a standout prep athletic career. He was a huge target catching passes for the 2009 Bison football team. Nichols was a leader on the McCook boys basketball team his senior season. He capped a strong season season by winning the Class B gold medal in the triple jump at the 2010 Nebraska state track and field meet in Omaha.
Mark is currently sixth on the Bison boys all-time track and field charts in his specialty event, with a leap of 45 feet, 9 inches set at the 2010 Dutch Zone Invite in Gothenburg. He won the 2010 state Class B triple jump gold medal with a jump of 45-7 3/4.
WITH THREE SPORTS as collegiate options, Nichols decided to try basketball. He joined the North Platte Community College men's program in the fall of 2010. After seeing limited playing time in his first season at NPCC, he gave up roundball and sat out last year.
After chatting with his fellow McCook grads and UNK football team members, he was convinced to try football. He enrolled at Kearney and joined the Loper program.
"They helped me in the summer, trying to help me decide where I wanted to go," Nichols said about Berry and Goltl. "They helped me come here. Dillon, he gave me some tips. Matt, the same thing. They helped a lot."
NICHOLS was on the sideline in street clothes Nov. 10 for UNK's game vs. Fort Hays State. In a post-game interview, he said his new athletic endeavor is going well.
"Coming in here, not playing football for a couple years, I'm starting to pick things up," he said. "I'm learning a lot, trying to get better, trying to get ready for next year."
Nichols has made an impression on the UNK coaching staff. Hopefully with the benefit of continued improvement through spring football, he could be in the mix for playing time at wide receiver next fall.
"Hopefully. They said I'm picking things up pretty well," Nichols said. "I've improved a lot since August, I've learned a lot. So I'll just continue to work hard and hopefully next year...."
BEING AWAY from the game for a few years, Nichols has a little catching up to do, and he noted the differences he has noticed between high school and college football.
"Everyone's obviously bigger, faster, stronger," he said. "There's a lot more of the mental game that you have to worry about in college that you didn't really have to in high school. I'm just trying to learn everything and pick everything up as quickly as possible."
NICHOLS IS also bigger, stronger and faster than he was as a Bison senior. Listed at 6-foot-4 on the McCook football and basketball rosters a few years back, Mark said he has grown to 6-6 -- an intriguing, big and fast target, perhaps, in the Loper passing game. Especially against much shorter backs in the opposition's defensive secondaries.
"I weigh around 220 pounds -- I was 200 when I got here," Mark said. "Speed, I've gotten a lot faster than in high school. The last time I clocked 40-yard dash I was in the 4.5s. I high school, I was like 4.78. A big difference."
Nichols will major in exercise science at UNK. He said his quickness and getting off the line of scrimmage and route running are things he needs to improve on for next season.
THE LOPERS finished the season with a 3-8 record after watching Fort Hays rally for a 30-23 victory in the season finale last Saturday in Kearney. Nichols and his fellow Bison graduates are not accustomed to losing, but Nichols thinks the tough 2012 season will fuel the Lopers to bigger things in the years to come.
"It's tough -- we all hate to lose," Mark said. "In high school we were successful. At UNK, they've been successful the last couple years. Going into a new conference, with a new offensive coordinator, we're just trying to settle in. Losing these games, it's going to make us work that much harder this off-season to make sure next year's not like that."