USF has had a lot of great linebackers over the years, and the former #51 is one of the best. In our original 15 For 15 series, we rated him as USF's #8 greatest player ever. He had a productive NFL career, and is now an assistant coach at USF.
#51 LB Stephen Nicholas
2002-06, 6'3", 225 lbs.
Career Stats: A four-year starter at linebacker, Nicholas is among USF's all-time leaders in games played (51), games started (45), tackles (326), tackles for loss (53.5), and sacks (20).
And those totals were harder to attain in Nicholas' era, because college football teams only played 11 regular-season games in 2004 and 2005, and USF did not make a bowl game in 2004. (He was aided by getting to play 3 games as a true freshman in 2002, before receiving a medical redshirt for that season.)
In seven seasons with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons, he played 101 games, starting 50, with 378 career tackles, and 8 sacks.
How He Came To USF: Nicholas signed with USF in the 2002 recruiting class, from Lee High School in Jacksonville.
Nicholas is one of only a handful of players from Jacksonville on USF's all-time roster. Others include Sam Barrington, Bernard Brown, Levi Newton, DeJuan Green (via the University of Georgia) Kion Wilson (via junior college), and player-turned-assistant-coach Saki Mihalakos.
Recruiting Rankings: Nicholas was a fringe 3-star recruit, and undoubtedly the star of the 2002 recruiting class. He had offers from Georgia, Louisville, and Syracuse.
His Best Game: Nicholas was such a consistent performer that it's tough to pick a best game. We'll go with a 2004 loss to Memphis, where he had a whopping 16 tackles. He was also a large presence in his two bowl games, including a sack that snuffed East Carolina's last chance to contest USF's first bowl win in 2006.
Did You Know: The only other players to wear #51 for more than one year were Joey Camero (1997-99), Armando Sanchez (2008-11), and Tashon Whitehurst (2012-15).