Tristan Nickelson on an unofficial visit to Auburn. [Photo courtesy of the Nickelson family]
League City (TX) Clear Falls offensive tackle Tristan Nickelson projects to be one of the top offensive tackles in the nation in 2013, and it looks like Michigan will be a serious player in his recruitment. The 6'7", 280-pound prospect is an ESPNU 150 Watch List candidate and could receive consideration for five-star status when the 2013 class is ranked. Excelling in the classroom as well as on the field, Nickelson carries a 4.1 GPA (!) and plans on studying mechanical engineering in college. His father was kind enough to update me on Tristan's recruitment as he prepares for his junior season, which kicks off tomorrow against the Hitchcock (TX) Bulldogs.
ACE: Who has been recruiting Tristan from Michigan? What is his interest level in the Wolverines, and are there any plans to take a visit at this point?
MR. NICKELSON: Coach Funk personally sent Tristan a hand-written invitation to attend one of the summer camps in Ann Arbor last June -- unfortunately we had a conflict in scheduling and were unable to attend. Based on NCAA rules, Tristan can’t receive any recruiting information until September 1st, 2011.
At this point (still very early in the recruiting process) Michigan would be his top choice, based on the new coaching staff, Coach Funk, the engineering department, and the incredible facilities. Tristan asked me several years ago, “Which top-25 program also has a world-class engineering department?" I answered Michigan, so since that time Michigan has been his favorite college team, even though I played for coach Jim Wacker at TCU (4-year letterman 1984-1988) and his mother played volleyball for Texas A&M. (Our daughter Taylor is a freshman at Texas A&M.)
We would like to explore taking an unofficial visit to Michigan to expose Tristan to the game day environment, and we're thinking that invitation will happen -- but again, most likely after Sept. 1st. It would be Coach Funk’s call or the recruiter assigned to the greater Houston area.
Tristan also plans on attending the Michigan Football Camp in June 2012.
ACE: What other schools have shown interest, and does Tristan have an idea of which programs are among his favorites?
MR. NICKELSON: Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Florida State, Auburn, LSU, Alabama, Florida, Arkansas, TCU, West Virginia, Arizona State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas A&M -- basically everyone on the list has started showing interest in recruiting Tristan by inviting him to games and unofficial campus visits.
His top three at this point (in order) would be: Michigan, LSU and Texas A&M.
ACE: Does Tristan have a timetable in mind for his recruitment? How has he handled all the attention so far?
MR. NICKELSON: We plan on attending a number of college football games this season, then continuing with unofficial visits throughout the spring and summer. Tristan is being considered for the U.S. Army All-American Game (Jan. 2013) and could wait until then to announce his final choice. I guess the timeline is still undetermined at this point. Schools can start contacting him directly on April 16th, 2012 -- I’m sure it will get crazy at that point.
ACE: This might be tough to answer, being his father, but how would you evaluate Tristan's strengths and weaknesses on the field? Is there anything specific he's working on in his game right now?
MR. NICKELSON: Although several publications have him listed at 6’6”, 255 lbs. [and playing for] Clear Springs High School, the correct information is 6’ 7 3/8”, 281 lbs. (with a shoe size of 17) at Clear Falls. So we need to improve on his “feet work” along with his 40 time; at the Under Armour Combine he was timed in the 6.4’s, which he has since improved to under a 6.0. Based on the top 10 OT numbers, Tristan really needs to be under a 5.2 by spring football (March 2012). His shuttle times have also continued to improve, and I would say at the point in his career, he is a much better run blocker than he is on pass protection. On over 50% of the run plays, he ends up with a “pancake block.”
From a positive standpoint, he is very strong and increasing weekly as he matures. Several programs, including Auburn, feel like Tristan will play in the 310-320 range. He has a wingspan of 82.5” and extremely large/strong hands (Tristan had the strongest hands at the UA Combine -- 165 lbs. on pressure). He is also on the wrestling team, placing 4th in district last year as a sophomore in the 285-pound class (his weight was 241 during the season). He is being trained by one of the top Olympic lifting coaches in the country, Tim Swords.
ACE: You said that your son is planning to study mechanical engineering in college. What qualities is he looking for in his future college choice?
MR. NICKELSON: As I mentioned, the combination would be a top-25 football program with has a top-tier engineering school; it’s only a handful of schools that have both. In addition, we have talked about playing for an offensive line coach that played the position in college or in the pros, along with a head coach that will have some level of flexibility in regards to the engineering curriculum.
Based on recent events, it will also be very important that the program is in good standing with the NCAA, and not under any type of current investigations.
If Tristan has the opportunity to play in the NFL that will be great, but we have always stressed the need for a great education, which he has done a great job of managing to date. So from our perspective, the pursuit of the [mechanical engineering degree] should always be equally as important as playing for a major university.