Colt Nichter enjoying resurgence of Vanderbilt football | ParkRecord.com

Colt Nichter enjoying resurgence of Vanderbilt football

Christopher Kamrani, The Park Record

During his tenure as a defensive tackle at Vanderbilt University, Park City’s Colt Nichter has seen a glimpse of the highs and has had a front-row view of the lowest of lows.

But after consecutive 2-10 seasons, the redshirt junior and the Commodores are going bowling for just the fifth time in school history. To Nichter, there’s no greater feeling than overcoming what he and his teammates have. Saturday’s 53rd AutoZone Liberty Bowl showdown against Big East champion Cincinnati (1:30 p.m., ABC) is just icing on the cake.

"It’s really satisfying," Nichter said Wednesday morning. "We’ve been through so much here. We’ve been through three different head coaches in my career at Vanderbilt."

The 6-foot-1, 280-pound defensive tackle recalls his freshman season as a redshirt when the Commodores went 7-6 and defeated then No. 24 Boston College in the Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl 16-14 in their own backyard of Nashville, Tenn.

That was 2008, and after that came a two-year struggle as the team went 4-20 in 2009 and 2010 combined before James Franklin, former offensive coordinator at the University of Maryland, came to campus and changed everything.

Nichter vividly remembers his first interaction with his now head coach. Franklin had been named head man at Vanderbilt on Dec. 17, 2010, and following one of the first team meetings later in the month, the 39-year-old coach set the stage for the rebirth of Vanderbilt football.

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"He said, ‘I hope you enjoyed Christmas break, because it’ll be the last one you get, because from here on out, we’re going bowling every year,’" Nichter said. "It was very exciting. He’s definitely a players’ coach. He’s kind of like Urban Meyer. In the past, our coaches kind of deal with the media and didn’t really have a relationship with the players. He’s pretty hard on us."

The former Park City star said until Franklin, the players had never worked or conditioned so hard in their football lives. He said they would go through countless long runs at 5:30 a.m. and what seemed like endless days on the sweltering summer turf.

"We just worked hard and he kind of gave us a mentality expecting to win," Nichter said. "The culture has completely changed."

The Commodores began the season 3-0, then lost three straight, including back-to-back losses to No. 12 South Carolina and No. 2 Alabama. In week six of the season, Vanderbilt lost a heartbreaker to visiting Georgia 33-28. Of the team’s six losses this season, four have come by a touchdown or less.

But as Nichter said, this year’s team dynamic has been different and the team endured the misfortune, stayed positive and became bowl-eligible with its 41-7 win at Wake Forest on Nov. 26.

Nichter said he didn’t have the type of season statistically he would have liked this year after bursting on to the scene in 2010, recording 32 total tackles (17 solo), seven tackles for loss and four sacks. But he said nagging shoulder and wrist injuries are eradicated and he’s back to 100 percent.

With nine starts in 12 games played this season, Nichter has notched 22 total tackles (11 solo), one sack and one tackle for loss.

While the Commodores (6-6) want to finish their up-and-down season on a high note, Nichter said the week leading up to the game has been one he won’t soon forget.

"We’ve been having dinners with Cincinnati and competitions," he said. "Rib-eating contests, video-game competitions, and we’ve seen them out at the bars, so everyone’s kind of like, ‘We have to beat these guys.’ Everyone’s fired up."

The Liberty Bowl, to be played three hours away from Nashville in Memphis, Tenn., will be an advantage he said because it will basically be a home game.

The junior defensive tackle said he had the option to graduate this year and end his football playing days in 2011, but said he couldn’t walk away after the type of energy the program now possesses. Nichter said he’ll return for the 2012 football season and graduate next fall with a degree in human organizational development and a minor in corporate strategy. He maintains a 3.1 grade-point average.

Colt Nichter has no set routine before games. He doesn’t have a set playlist on his iPod, nor does he have a ritual pre-game meal he eats before kickoff.

"I kind of just take every game one game at a time," he said. "This game is more special because it’s the last time to be with a lot of the guys in my grade and the older guys, a lot of my closest friends, who are graduating. It’s going to be a lot more emotional. They’re practically my family. We’ve been through all these rough times the last four years. The bowl game is big because it’s going to be good for the program for years to come."

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