By BLAKE TOPPMEYER
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
HANNIBAL, Mo. -- There's really almost nothing Mitch Nichols won't do for the Hannibal football team this season.
He will run the football 15-plus times per game. He'll play defense. He'll handle kickoffs, punts and field goals. He competes on the kick return unit.
The Pirates will benefit from Nichols' presence in each of those areas, and Hannibal coach Mark St. Clair knows it. Yet, what catches St. Clair's eye most about Nichols is what he does after practices and games.
"He'll go around the locker room picking up empty cups and straightening up equipment," St. Clair said.
Ask St. Clair or Nichols' teammates, and they'll tell you Nichols is as humble of a star football player as you'll come across.
"He's one of the hardest-working, most conscientious, nicest kids you'll ever find," St. Clair said. "There's not a football program in the country that wouldn't benefit from Mitch Nichols."
Nichols said his attitude is simply a reflection of the parenting of Larry and Tammy Nichols.
"It's just the way my parents raised me, to not think you're bigger than anyone else just because you're varsity or anything, to just help out as much as you can," Nichols said.
Nichols also knows better than to look down on any teammate, because as he proved, a player can go from a nobody to a star in no time.
As a sophomore, Nichols rushed for 147 yards, but something St. Clair said to him during a midseason junior varsity game that year struck a chord with him.
"Coach St. Clair slapped me on the butt (after a play) and said, ‘You're going to be a stud,'" Nichols said. "That's when I knew I could handle it."
Nichols proved he could be the feature back on the varsity team last season, when he gained 1,191 yards on 158 carries with 16 touchdowns.
Then-senior Caleb Bieniek, a three-time all-state safety, joined Nichols in the backfield, and Nichols was surprised his number got called as much as it did. Bieniek turned out to be the secondary back, carrying 112 times for 778 yards.
"I thought they'd lean more toward the seniors, but they called my name so I ran with it," Nichols said.
Nichols' production last season makes it reasonable to believe he could become Hannibal's first 1,500-yard rusher since 2001, when Wentric Williams rushed for 1,881.
Still, Nichols was almost exclusively a running back last season, and his addition to the defensive secondary and increase in special teams duties could prevent him from increasing his offensive touches this season.
"I don't know if he'll have more carries, but we're definitely counting on him for quality carries, quality performance," St. Clair said. "He'll get at least that many carries. I just don't know if it will be more."
Nichols' burst onto the scene might have caught some opponents by surprise last season, but defenses will be well aware of his skills this fall.
"You just have to be ready for that and work harder than you did last year," Nichols said.
Don't expect the fact that Nichols now tops opponents' scouting reports to change his personality.
"He's still very humble. He's nice to everyone," senior lineman Brett Wessel said. "He's not like, ‘I'm above everyone else.'"
2012 record: 10-2 (6-0 in the North Central Missouri Conference)
Coach: Mark St. Clair (132-48 at Hannibal, 17th season)
Offense: Veer/Split backs; Defense: Multiple
Returning starters: Offense — RB Mitch Nichols, 5-10, 185, Sr.; C Jordan Wilson, 6-1, 230, Sr.; TE Austin Davis, 6-4, 235, Sr.; G Gus Meyer, 5-10, 245, Sr.; G Brett Wessel, 6-0, 200, Sr.; QB/WR Lijah Harrison, 6-3, 180, Sr.; T Dylan Powell, 6-2, 225, Soph.
Defense — S Harrison; LB Wessel; DE Davis, DE Wilson, LB Wyatt King, 5-10, 175, Jr.
Other returning letterwinners: None listed.
New faces: DB Jerry McBride, 5-10, 160, Soph.; DB Wesley Hjelm, 6-0, 165, Sr.; WR/DB Dalton Overstreet, 6-3, 180, Jr.
Key Losses: RB/S Caleb Bieniek, QB Dalton Powell, OL/DL Jake Borgmeyer
Time Date Place
7:30 p.m. Aug. 30 vs. Quincy Notre Dame
7 p.m. Sept. 6 at Battle
7 p.m. Sept. 13 at Boonville*
7 p.m. Sept. 20 vs. Mexico*
7 p.m. Sept. 27 at Kirksville*
7 p.m. Oct. 4 vs. Fulton*
7 p.m. Oct. 11 at Moberly*
7 p.m. Oct. 18 vs. Marshall*
7 p.m. Oct. 25 vs. Jeff City Helias
* North Central Missouri Conference game