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May 6, 2016

Behind the Blue and Gold – Matt Nichols

Sitting next to the large windows overlooking the snow-covered stadium at Investors Group Field, Matt Nichols looks out at the falling snow and shakes his head. “Well, I’m excited that the season starts in JUNE. I’m used to some of the snow, but when I got off the plane up here, it was a slap in the face for sure,” laughs the California native.

 

Winter weather aside, Nichols is happy to be back in his new home city. After a trade with Edmonton that sent the quarterback to Winnipeg in September, the former Eskimo, who had spent his entire six-year CFL career in green and yellow, couldn’t be happier to be in blue and gold. “You always feel like you’re going to be somewhere forever, even though that’s not the case in this business,” admits Nichols. “It’s hard to picture yourself somewhere else, but at the same time when the trade happened, I couldn’t have been more excited about coming here.”

 

While the veteran quarterback was thrown into the fire, starting in the Banjo Bowl just over a week after arriving in the Manitoba capital, he speaks of the team as a player who has spent the entirety of his career with the Blue Bombers. “I was only here for a couple months but it feels like it’s been a couple years,” smiles Nichols, who quickly earned the trust and respect of his new teammates.

 

“You go to battle with guys and they see you taking hits and getting back up, and that it was going to take something serious to take me off the field,” he explains. “Showing them that I put in the work, I just tried gaining their trust that way.”

 

Nichols

 

Having the support and help of injured quarterback, Drew Willy, went a long way in bringing Nichols up to speed quickly on the playbook and getting to know his teammates. “I think there’s a lot of guys who have the personality of ‘I don’t want to help this guy because that’s my job’ type thing, but it wasn’t that way at all,” says Nichols. “Any questions I had, or on game day, I’d ask him what he was seeing and he’d give me any information he could to help me play well and help this team win.”

 

With a common goal in sight, the two formed a quick friendship on and off the field, making the working relationship easy. “I want to be on a winning team so if he’s the guy on the field I’m going to help him, and if at some point in the season I’m on the field, I know he’s going to do everything he can to help me,” affirms Nichols. “Part of making a guy better, making a good team, is competition. So I plan on pushing Drew and making sure he’ll be as good as he can be and vice-versa.”

 

And this upside, the team’s potential as well as his own, is what excites Nichols heading into the 2016 season. “Last year was where I got the bulk of my playing experience and so I feel like the things I was able to do last year are going to be huge for me moving forward,” explains Nichols, leaning back and looking out at the snow-blanketed field.

 

“Luckily as a quarterback, I think your prime is 28-35 years-old, where in a lot of other positions, age factors in a little more. Once you get over 30 you’re seen as an older guy. For me, I’m 28 right now so I feel like my best years are ahead of me.”

 

Nichols feels the team’s time to breakout is ahead as well, with the Bombers on the brink of what could have been a completely different outcome in 2015. “It felt like we were extremely close to beating some really good teams; we were close against Ottawa twice who went to the Grey Cup, I felt like we should have beat Edmonton who won the Grey Cup, we had some bad luck at the end of the Calgary game that I felt we should have won. Those were three of the best teams in the league last year, so I’m excited to be here.”

 

His enthusiasm is obvious, especially when talking about new Offensive Coordinator, Paul LaPolice. “The last couple days up here have been awesome,” smiles Nichol, who is in Winnipeg for training in the Breaking the Violence Against Women program with four other teammates. But each day before starting the training sessions, Nichols made a point to visit with LaPolice. “He seems like a great guy, a lot of great ideas, he’s passionate, I look forward to working with him and I can tell already from the last couple days it’s going to be a great working relationship.”

 

The staff, the facilities, the team’s talent; these all factored into Nichols’ decision to resign in Winnipeg on January 5, 2016. But one of the biggest swaying factors was the immense fan support. “The Banjo Bowl last year, that was one of the best atmospheres I’ve ever been involved in football,” says Nichols, grinning at the memory. “This place was completely packed, the rivalry, I had been here for only a few days and going in to start a game… it was a crazy experience. To come in and win that rivalry game, at home, it was a great experience for me and I’m looking forward to more.”

 

Even in the dead of winter, passionate Winnipeg fans will jump at the opportunity to talk football, and the quarterback is more than happy to stop and chat. Even in the middle of dinner with his family. “It’s awesome even just being here for a couple days. We went out to dinner last night and I had a couple people come up and talk to me, so this city cares a lot about this team and they deserve a winner,” he asserts. “You can only control what you can control, and for me that’s working extremely hard this off-season to be ready for the city and my teammates.”

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