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Carolina native puts on a show for home fans

ZACHARY SPAIN
Published September 28, 2003

DURHAM, N.C. - Saturday's game at Duke was something of a homecoming for Florida State sophomore linebacker A.J. Nicholson.

In front of 20 friends and family members, the Winston-Salem native recovered two fumbles, returning one for a touchdown.

Not a bad showing for what also was his first start.

"It is always special to play in front of your family at home," defensive end Kevin Emanuel said. "You always want to be able to show what you can do, and he did that."

Among his contingent in attendance for FSU's 56-7 victory was Nicholson's father, Darrel, a former All-ACC linebacker at North Carolina.

"He told me to go out there and do what you do and do it for TV," Nicholson said.

Nicholson, who replaced injured senior Kendyll Pope, appeared to take his father's advice.

On Duke's opening drive of the third quarter, Emanuel forced quarterback Mike Schneider to fumble at the Blue Devil 23. Nicholson scooped up the fumble with a clear path to the end zone. But as Nicholson neared the goal line, he dropped the ball before corraling it again, this time with two hands.

"I was trying to do my little (Deion Sanders) impression. Then it kind of came out," said Nicholson, who was credited with a 3-yard touchdown return in addition to 19 yards before he lost the ball.

While not pretty, the play set the tone for the second half. The Seminoles had allowed 185 yards of total offense, and Duke converted 5 of 9 third downs during the first half.

"It was a big momentum thing," Emanuel said. "That got the whole team really excited about coming out and playing even harder."

Emanuel also had a hand in Nicholson's first fumble recovery, which came during the second quarter. He forced Schneider to cough up the ball on third and 8 inside the FSU 20. This time, Nicholson jockeyed with teammate Allen Augustin and unknowingly ripped the ball away during the scramble.

"(I thought) he was going to be mad at me," Nicholson said. "I said Allen, "I'm so sorry."'

In addition to his fumble theatrics, Nicholson finished with two tackles and five assists.

"It put smiles on my mom and dad's face," Nicholson said.

"And that's all I want to do."

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