FSU suspends LB for Orange Bowl

A.J. Nicholson is at home after being questioned in a sexual assault investigation.

Published December 30, 2005

FORT LAUDERDALE - Florida State star linebacker A.J. Nicholson was suspended for the Orange Bowl and sent home less than a day after arriving after being questioned in a reported sexual assault of a woman at the team's hotel.

A 19-year-old woman telephoned police around 3 a.m. Thursday saying an FSU player, later identified as Nicholson, had raped her at the Westin Diplomat Hotel, Hollywood Police Department Detective and spokesman Carlos Negron said.

Nicholson was cooperating and voluntarily spoke to officers for a couple hours without an attorney, Negron said. He was allowed to leave town and went home to Winston-Salem, N.C.

"It's going to take a while to gather all the sensitive info and all the evidence," Negron said. "The detectives are conducting a real, real intense investigation just because of the fact that it's such a serious allegation."

FSU coach Bobby Bowden learned there was a problem Thursday morning and immediately ruled Nicholson, a senior, out for Tuesday's game for "violating a team rule or policy."

Bowden did say he had no plans to change curfew (it was 1 a.m. Thursday) or restrict the players' scheduled free time while in South Florida.

"If they do what they're supposed to do, they'll be all right," he said, his frustration and disappointment palpable. "You learn lessons from other people's mistakes; that's the biggest thing."

Nicholson, 22, has provided his share of teaching points, which could affect his NFL draft prospects.

He was arrested on suspicion of DUI, a misdemeanor, in February and in June was arrested for what police said was resisting an officer without violence after he was seen running from a Tallahassee night club. He had to be subdued by an energy weapon.

That misdemeanor charge was dropped "in the interests of justice," the prosecutor said, when Nicholson pleaded no contest to the DUI in early August. He received six months' probation.

The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Nicholson started all 12 games, leading the Seminoles in tackles (100) for the second straight season. He had two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown in an early win at Boston College.

Were it not for that win, the Seminoles wouldn't have advanced to the inaugural ACC Championship Game, where an upset of Virginia Tech propelled them unexpectedly into the Bowl Championship Series. Nicholson has been invited to the Senior Bowl, and the all-star game's president, Steve Hale, said no decision on Nicholson's status would be made until "we get to the bottom of things."

Linebackers coach Kevin Steele said senior middle linebacker Buster Davis likely will move to Nicholson's weakside spot, and senior Sam McGrew will start at middle linebacker.

"We move guys around and interchange and cross train guys," he said, adding there would have been no need to shuffle players had senior Marcello Church, Nicholson's backup all season and a former Lakewood star, not been injured in the ACC title game.