Nearly 10 years later, Dutchtown’s Mason Nickens still recalls those afternoons at his grandmother’s home. That’s where he went to relive some of his father Jeff Nickens’ football playing days at East Ascension, courtesy of reel-to-reel film that bounced highlights off a projection screen.
Not only did the younger Nickens pick up on the versatility of his father, a two-way starter and special teams player, but the almost throw-back manner in which he played the game.
“He was just a hard-nosed football player, and he sort of pushed me,” Nickens said. “I’d hear his friends talking about the kind of football player he was, and that I would never amount to the kind of runner he was and it really pushed me. It’s always been like that.”
Nickens inherited more than just good genes but a fierce passion and competitiveness also built into his football DNA - traits that enabled the first-year starting quarterback to play a key role in Dutchtown’s run to a second straight 10-0 regular season and District 5-5A championship.
Now Nickens turns his attention to the playoffs. Fourth-seeded Dutchtown hosts No. 29 Ponchatoula (6-4) at 7 p.m. Friday.
“It’s a challenge,” Nickens said. “Coming out here and trying to give the community something we haven’t had before, and that’s a state championship.”
The career path for the 5-foot-11, 185-pound Nickens appeared it would parallel that of his father, a fullback and running back on offense, linebacker on defense along with duties on all special teams.
Nickens excelled during his youth football days and into middle school as a tough runner known more for initiating contact than trying to avoid it.
During middle school, his coaches suggested he give quarterback a try in practice, but Nickens never gave in, always sticking to his running back roots until the blueprint Tim Tebow came up with for running the spread offense while at Florida.
“He lowered his head and hit guys instead of sliding,” Nickens said. “That’s when I took pride in wanting to be a quarterback because I’ve always liked hard-nosed runners.”
After playing fullback, slot receiver and backup quarterback his first two years, Nickens took over Dutchtown’s spread attack on a full-time basis with the graduation of Tulane signee Leon Blouin.
“We saw him growing in practice last year,” Dutchtown coach Benny Saia said. “We just felt he could handle it based on what he did in practice and the few reps he got in the game, and he’s done a good job. He doesn’t back down from much.”
Dutchtown’s no-huddle spread offense, which averaged 33 points last season, has operated at an even higher rate this year with 37 points per outing and has reached the 40-point benchmark five times, including last week’s 42-6 victory over Catholic High.
Nickens, who accounted for 192 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Catholic, has carried 112 times for 790 yards (6.6 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns. He’s also completed 51 percent of his passes (41-of-80) for 779 yards and eight TDs.
Now on weekends, Nickens and his father, who attends every game, can relive the most recent Dutchtown victory through DVDs splashed across a flat-screened television and the images are striking: the enthusiasm for the game, the leadership qualities coupled with maximum effort on the field.
“My dad’s a great man,” Nickens said. “Looking at me play, he’s tickled pink. He and my coaches saw this destiny in me being the quarterback at Dutchtown. Every time he looks at me he tells me, I told you so.”