Blake Nichelson is going from the Golden State to the Sunshine State.
Manteca High’s four-star rated linebacker announced Tuesday that he has committed to Florida State University. Brandon Huffman of 247Sports remotely hosted the commitment ceremony as it streamed live on YouTube.
Nichelson was joined by parents Don and Nicole, brother Wyatt, friends, teammates, coaches and school administrators at Manteca’s new gym. He’ll make it official during the early signing period Dec. 21-23.
One of the most coveted athletes to ever come out of the Manteca area, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Nichelson held 19 scholarship offers from NCAA Division I programs and narrowed his top three to Florida State, Oregon and UCLA.
Nichelson is a Ripon resident but also deeply rooted in Manteca. His mom is an MHS grad, and uncle Ken Menasco coaches the defensive line for the varsity team. Some of his old Ripon Christian classmates and Ripon Knights youth football teammates were in attendance Tuesday.
After a long and meandering recruiting process, Nichelson said he finally locked in his choice on Monday. Only his family and MHS coaches were privy to his decision, though it was perhaps one of the worst-kept secrets that the Seminoles of Tallahassee were favored to land one of the top prospects in the country.
“Whenever I’m there it just feels like I’m home,” Nichelson said. He visited the FSU twice over the summer. “Great place to be. The fans are crazy out there, I really like that. They’re always (reaching out) on social media.
“Even when I was in the city I got recognized by a couple people there. It was crazy. I was just a recruit there and already getting recognized. It really just goes to show the love that you get out in Tally.”
Nichelson also expressed appreciation for the attention and support he receives from Florida State head coach Mike Norvell and co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Randy Shannon.
Shannon attended Manteca’s homecoming game two weeks ago when Nichelson compiled 23 rushes, 207 yards, six touchdowns, two tackles, 1.5 sacks and a pass breakup in the Buffaloes’ 59-22 win over Turlock. He also completed a 48-yard pass on a third-and-long situation.
“Flying in from Florida is kind of crazy, you know?” Nichelson said. “It takes a lot of time and money, so it really goes to show how much they did want me.”
Nichelson noted that it was a tough decision. A longtime Oregon fan, he made a last-minute, unofficial visit to Eugene this past weekend and watched the Ducks’ game against BYU.
“With Oregon it was really close,” he said. “Oregon has had my heart since I was a little kid, to be honest. It was kind of hard not going there. It was really a fight and an emotional moment when I decided that I was not going to go there. I love the coaching staff, I love the program and I wish them nothing but the best.”
In the end, it was Florida State that won the Blake Nichelson sweepstakes. He is the 132nd-ranked prospect in the nation, by 247Sports, the 11th-ranked linebacker in the country and the 11th-ranked overall player in California.
The ’Noles, currently 3-0, are getting a versatile athlete who was among the most explosive offensive players in California last year but named Outstanding Defensive Player in the Valley Oak League. He set single-season records at Manteca with 1,876 rushing yards and 2,316 total yards from scrimmage, and his 288 points (44 touchdowns, 11 two-point conversions, safety) were tops in the state. On defense, he had 52 tackles, 16 for losses, 7 ½ sacks and three forced fumbles.
This season, he leads the 4-0 Buffaloes with 472 rushing yards, 164 receiving yards, 14 touchdowns, 10 tackles, 3.5 sacks, four passes defensed and one forced fumble.
“He’s a once-in-a-generation athlete,” Manteca coach Mark Varnum said. “The total package — size, strength, speed and explosiveness. And he just loves playing the game of football. I’m excited to see what he’s going to do for the rest of the season and I’m excited to see what he’s going to do for Florida State.”
Nichelson looks forward to using all of his tools at the next level. He started out as a wide receiver prospect his sophomore year but began to get offers as a linebacker. He’ll play inside linebacker at FSU, though he is currently used as an edge rusher and strong safety for Manteca defensive coordinator Rick James.
“I feel like I can play any position,” he said.
Nichelson added that there is a great deal of relief that comes with finally making this life-altering decision.
“Throughout this entire process, I feel that every offer I got was a blessing to me,” he said. “It’s just shocking that I actually got here, just thinking about the times when I was a little kid. I never imaged being in the spot that I am in right now.”