The last time the Nicholls State football team won this many games, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal were still winning titles with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Nicholls is on a historic run in 2017 with a 7-2 record, the school’s best mark since going 7-4 in 2002. With two Southland Conference games left on the schedule, the Colonels have already secured their first winning season since 2007 and are one victory shy of tying the school record for single-season conference wins (seven in 1975).
The Colonels have gone unbeaten at home (5-0) for only the third time in school history.
The unprecedented superlatives go on and on for a program that went 0-12 three seasons ago and 6-40 from 2011 to 2014.
“I thought we had a chance to have some wins, but you can never put a number on it,” said Colonels coach Tim Rebowe, who took over the team in 2015. “But we had some guys coming back with a little bit of experience and some guys that can play. When the quarterback is healthy and playing good, you have a chance to win some games.”
Nicholls’ climb out of the Southland cellar was slow and steady at first. The Colonels posted a 3-8 record in Rebowe’s first season in 2015 and went 5-6 a season ago, including their first winning record in conference play (5-4) since 2005.
But the explosion in wins this season, coaches and players say, can be attributed in part to a new attitude Rebowe instilled when he first arrived in Thibodaux.
“It starts with the little things that coach (Rebowe) preaches — showing up on time with meetings and weights, being on time with class,” starting quarterback Chase Fourcade said. “What coach Rebowe has done his first couple years here, it shows.”
A blowout loss also helped.
Earlier this year, two weeks after nearly beating Texas A&M, Nicholls was shellacked 66-17 by a Sam Houston State squad loaded with reigning Walter Payton Award winner Jeremiah Briscoe.
Nicholls has ripped off a five-game winning streak since that humiliation.
“I really think we needed that loss,” Fourcade admitted. “I thought we had some big heads here and there. I think that blowout loss to Sam Houston really turned the tides.”
The other key aspect for all the wins: recruiting — and lots of it — in talent-rich south Louisiana.
Of the 107 players listed on the Colonels’ roster, 97 are from Louisiana. Of those 97, only one —defensive back Darryl Adams Jr. of Cheneyville — hails from a Louisiana region that isn’t part of the New Orleans, Baton Rouge or Lafayette metro areas.
“The bottom line to it is you’ve got to get some good players in here, and I thought the coaching staff, the assistants went out and we got a couple big-time recruits, and that started the change,” Rebowe said.
Looking forward, more uncharted territory could be ahead for Nicholls.
Should the Colonels win their last two games, they could make the FCS playoffs for the first time since 2005. The school record for wins (10 in 1986) is also in sight should the Colonels sweep their remaining games and win a first-round playoff game.
A conference title is also technically in play, though they’ll need Central Arkansas (7-0 in league play) and Sam Houston State (6-1) to lose some games before the season ends.
The present feels good and the future looks bright, though the Colonels say they won’t be distracted with the finish line in sight.
“It’s very satisfying, but we’re just still not trying to get relaxed,” said safety Corey Abraham, who endured that winless season in 2014. “We’re just still trying to go on and do better things. But it’s really good. It’s a good feeling.”