Sam Pittman had his work cut out for him when it came to revamping the Arkansas offensive line this offseason. So far, though, the head Hog has had quite a successful go of it.
The hiring of Eric Mateos to lead the group and signing three high-level transfers, while likely adding at least one more, are both positive steps forward for Pittman’s offensive line room.
Of those three transfer additions, one stands out amongst the rest, as he brings SEC experience with him to Fayetteville. Addison Nichols committed to the Razorbacks after two seasons at Tennessee.
The Norcross, Ga., native was a four-star high school recruit and rated as the No. 8 interior lineman in the 2022 recruiting class, according to 247Sports. Tennessee coach Josh Heupel took over as the Volunteers’ head coach in 2021 and when Nichols committed to the Vols during the 2022 cycle, it marked the first four-star commit of Heupel’s tenure.
The 6-foot-5, 327-pound lineman appeared in 14 games during his time with the Volunteers, but mostly as a reserve or on special teams. When Nichols was given extensive playing time against Vanderbilt towards the end of this season, he was very solid. Nichols played 67 snaps in that game, earning an 85.0 pass-blocking grade, according to Pro Football Focus.
Journey to Arkansas
In an interview with Best of Arkansas Sports, Addison Nichols said he made his decision to transfer from Tennessee toward the end of this season and Arkansas immediately stood out as an intriguing destination.
“Coach Heupel is a great guy, a great coach and has a great program,” Nichols said. “Couldn’t say a bad thing about him. Definitely learned a lot through my time there, but at the end of the day, I just didn’t see myself hitting my full potential in the room I was in.
“Obviously, Coach Pittman is a huge, huge part of that decision (to transfer to Arkansas). When Coach Mateos reached out, I had never heard of him and when I started doing my research – that man has an incredible track record. The two of them combined, I don’t think you’ll ever find anything like that ever again. It was just one of those things where, at the end of the day, I would be stupid not to come here.”
Nichols announced his decision to enter the portal on Dec. 4 and less than two weeks later, he was committed to Arkansas. He said the process was made much easier than his first recruitment because he knew exactly what he was looking for from his next school.
“It’s incredibly different (from) high school,” Nichols said. “There’s definitely more urgency with the short timeframe that you have. It’s nicer in the way that you don’t get the high school ‘fakeness’ because you know what you want, what you’re looking for and you can see through some of the BS.”
What Nichols is basically saying is that recruiting out of the transfer portal cuts out all of the noise and, in his words, “fluff” allowing the two parties to get straight into business. (Fernando Carmona Jr. had a pretty eye-opening term to describe what other coaches were doing to him during his recruiting.) In his case, he liked what Pittman and Mateos could offer and chose Arkansas after official visits to Georgia Tech and Clemson.
Concerns About Time with Tennessee Football?
His decision to leave Tennessee left some in Knoxville surprised. Best of Arkansas Sports spoke to Ryan Schumpert of Rocky Top Insider at the time of Nichols’ commitment and he acknowledged that while Tennessee was disappointed with his development up to that point, they weren’t wanting him to leave.
Other Tennessee insiders believed that Nichols was “too soft” to play in the SEC, even so much as dubbing him the “Blake Griffin of football” – which is not the worst person to be compared to considering Griffin did go on to have an extremely successful professional career sans “mean streak.”
When asked about that particular criticism from some in Knoxville, Nichols dismissed it while pushing back on the source.
“I don’t think that’s the case at all,” Nichols said. “Most of these guys just go off of their opinion, but don’t really know what goes on behind closed doors and what the true story is. I understand it, they have to have something to write about and something that draws attention and views, but it’s typically not accurate.”
Schumpert didn’t necessarily agree with the “too soft” assessment either, instead saying that Nichols could greatly benefit from a fresh start. Going back to the fact that Nichols was the first four-star recruit of Josh Heupel’s coaching tenure, Schumpert believes that placed some unrealistic expectations on Nichols.
He cited struggles that Nichols had while playing center as a big reason for his limited role and that maybe a new position at a new school could be what the ex-Volunteer was looking for. Nichols, though, pushed back on that notion and reiterated his reasoning.
“I’m coming in as a center, me leaving Tennessee had nothing to do with position,” Nichols said. “Like I said, nothing bad to say about the program at Tennessee. There’s some great people, Coach Heupel does a tremendous job with the program and culture. I learned a lot about football and being a man during my time there. It’s just one of those things where, looking forward, I needed more.”
The more Nichols mentions isn’t necessarily even about playing time or snaps, but being around Coach Pittman and Coach Mateos – two guys who have a plethora of experience and proven track record. He said that being able to soak up their knowledge on a daily basis is what he believes will help him reach his full potential.
What Addison Nichols Brings to Arkansas Football
As a redshirt sophomore, Addison Nichols has three years of eligibility remaining, which is plenty of time to reach that ceiling. Entering his third season of college football, he’s also setting some lofty expectations both individually and as a team.
“I want to bring back every award that you can possibly win at any position and any level,” Nichols said. “We have our eyes set on the Joe Moore Award (nation’s best offensive line), I want to get the Remington Award (nation’s best center) and we obviously want to win a national championship. We just want to be the best team.”
In order to accomplish those goals, Nichols believes they already have two key pieces in Pittman and Mateos. It’s now on the players to go out and execute.
“We need to go grind it out on the field, soak up every ounce of knowledge from them and the rest will follow,” Nichols said. “I think we have a great group of guys that have that same mindset, that want to win and want to be successful. To do that, every practice, every rep, every game has to be about just getting better each time.”
Nichols says that having that kind of mindset is important for not only his individual success, but to also help him become a leader of the offensive line room.
“I’m a guy that wants to win, I want to bring success to this program and I want to leave a legacy,” Nichols said. “I want this program to reach heights that it’s never reached before, and I think we have all of the ability to do so.
“I just want to come in and be that leader on the offensive line, at the center position, and help guide that path to success. I want to bring that same attitude every single day and I’m going to. It’s going to be a really great year to be a Razorback fan.”
Music Chops and Non-Football Goals
Before any official offseason training or practices could begin for Addison Nichols, he had to finish his move to Arkansas and get acclimated to a new city. The process has been made more challenging by a lack of internet at his apartment for the last few weeks.
Luckily for Nichols, he has plenty of ways to pass what little free time he has away from football and school. In middle school, he taught himself how to play the piano, guitar and ukulele.
“I just got bored in middle school and taught myself,” Nichols said of time growing up in the metro Atlanta area. “I can do lots of really random things like music, solving Rubik’s cubes, etc., just from getting bored and wanting to learn something new.”
While he can play all three instruments well, he normally only plays for himself instead of in front of an audience. He joked that a singing career is far from being in the cards, but that playing music locally is a fun idea to consider.
What Nichols is very keen to do, though, is finding a church community in the coming months.
“Once I’ve settled down and am finally in a routine, I’m going to start going and checking different ones out that have been recommended to me,” Nichols said. “I am going to join a church, though, that’s a big goal of mine.”
Much like finding a new home after entering the transfer portal, finding the right church community is a process for Nichols. Only it’s less pressure and on a much smaller scale.
However, the goal remains the same – find the right fit and best place to grow as a person and player. Once his time in Fayetteville has come to an end, there will be another process in figuring out what is next.
If Addison Nichols accomplishes all of the lofty goals he’s laid out here, it’s a safe bet that Sundays will play an even more important role in his life than they do now.
Hear more from Addison Nichols:
Austin Nichols for Tennessee Football 2023
Played in all 11 games this season and has seen action on 49 offensive snaps, allowing one pressure … Played 22 offensive snaps in Homecoming win over UConn (11/4), all at left guard … Saw action on field goal and PAT unit for two straight SEC road trips at No. 11/8 Alabama (10/21) and at Kentucky (10/28) …
Blocked on PAT and field goal units in back-to-back SEC wins over South Carolina (9/30) and Texas A&M (10/14) … Played six offensive snaps at LG in win vs. UTSA (9/23) and did not allow a pressure … Saw action on PAT/field goal unit in his SEC debut at Florida (9/16) … Appeared on special teams in home opener vs. Austin Peay (9/9) … Played 12 offensive snaps at right guard in the season opener vs. Virginia (9/2) and did not allow a pressure. (via Vols Communications)
Learn more about Arkansas football’s other transfer portal additions from BoAS here: