Morris: Nichols thrilled for new opportunity in Ottawa
Each month Matt Nichols’ wife changes the message on a board that hangs in the family’s home.
February’s memo reads “I’m unable to quit because I’m currently too legit.”
Through a career that has seen highs and lows like a raft being tossed on stormy ocean waves, the veteran CFL quarterback has never been a quitter. He also refuses to be bitter.
Instead of being frustrated by his release Sunday by the Toronto Argonauts, Nichols talked about how excited he is to sign with the Ottawa REDBLACKS.
“My excitement level is through the roof,” he said during a video conference. “I can’t wait to get started.”
“It was a no-brainer. I just jumped at it. You go with gut feelings and what just feels right. Being with Ottawa is what felt right to me and my family.”
The former Winnipeg Blue Bomber quarterback is also enthusiastic about being reunited with Ottawa head coach Paul LaPolice. The pair worked four years together when LaPolice was the Bombers’ offensive coordinator.
“It’s huge,” said Nichols. “Not just that I’ve played for him (but) we have a great working relationship. From the time I started playing for (LaPolice) our offence has kind of evolved.
“I know this offence inside and out. There’s that familiarity and understanding him as a play caller. I think we vibe together really well. I feel like I know what play is coming in before he even calls it. We’re just on the same page. To be able to have that as a quarterback, you can’t place a value on that. We’ve done a lot of successful things together and we look forward to continuing that together.”
Nichols denied feeling any animosity toward the Argos, who signed him as a free agent last February but then released him in a cost-saving move.
“I’ve moved past that,” said the 33-year-old. “I don’t look at when things went wrong in certain places or things I can’t control.
“I’m in a place that I want to be with people I want to be around, a culture I think can produce a lot of winning football. I’m a kind of one-foot-in-front-of-the-other type of guy. I have different reasons for every single team in the league that I want to go out and beat them.”
The REDBLACKS signed Nichols after releasing Nick Arbuckle, who they acquired in a January 2020 trade from Calgary. Arbuckle then signed with Toronto.
“I have been around this league long enough . . . I’ve seen all kind of crazy things, crazier things than what has happened the last few days,” said Nichols. “You’ve just got to keep your head down, keep working hard, control what you can control. That’s always been a big thing that has allowed me to roll with the punches.”
Nichols believes he was having a MOP type of year in 2019 with the Bombers before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 10. At the time the Bombers had a 7-2 record and Nichols led the CFL with 15 touchdown passes while throwing for 1,936 yards and just five interceptions.
With Nichols sidelined the Bombers acquired Zach Collaros from Toronto and went on to win the Grey Cup for the first time since 1990.
“I was unfortunate timing for me, but it didn’t stop me from wanting to see my teammates succeed,” he said. “Most (of the players) were guys from 2015 when we were not good at all. We completely turned that place around.
“All those guys that I went through the rebuild with, seeing them win that championship, seeing them being able to finish what we had started, it was as exciting as if I were in the game. I still had a big hand in how that season played out.”
Having the 2020 CFL season cancelled due to COVID-19 gave extra time for Nichols’ shoulder to mend. He spent the winter working out at home and his body feels healthy after not taking any hits for over a year.
Being home has also allowed him to spend more time with his wife and children.
“They are probably more ready for me to go back to work than anything,” he said. “They’re not used to having more around all day, every day.”
Asked if he had a dog, Nichols only laughed.
“My kids act like animals 90 per cent of the time,” he said.
In 114 CFL games playing with Edmonton and Winnipeg, Nichols has completed 1,582 of 2,373 passes for 18,363 yards, 94 touchdowns and 60 interceptions. The six-foot-two, 215-pound native of Redding, Calif., has also rushed for 617 yards.
Nichols has always shown resilience.
In 2012 with Edmonton, he suffered a broken leg in a playoff game. In the first pre-season game of 2013 he tore his ACFL and missed the entire season.
He spent 2014 and part of 2015 with Edmonton as a backup to Mike Reilly. He was traded to Winnipeg in September of 2015 and took as the starter in 2016.
“It helps my wife is 100 per cent on board with everything,” said Nichols. “My family is flexible. We have kind of been through ultra highs, ultra lows. I think we are pretty good at just taking it on the chin and moving on to the next opportunity.”