'I never panicked': Why Lew Nichols stuck with CMU despite coaching change, teammates decommitting

Central Michigan running back Lew Nichols signs his national letter of intent to play for the Chippewas at Cass Tech High School on Dec. 19.

Precisely two days succeeding Central Michigan's firing of head coach John Bonamego on Nov. 23, Cass Tech prospects Kyron McKinnie-Harper and Ormondell Dingle decommitted from the Chippewas.

But their teammate, Lew Nichols, stuck with his original pick.

Instead of turning away, the Cass Tech three-star running back remained solid on CMU – even before the hiring of new coach Jim McElwain.

McKinnie-Harper and Dingle reaffirmed their commitments less than a month later and signed to CMU on Dec. 19. Putting pen to paper by their side was Nichols, but his journey to joining the team was much different.

Pacing Cass Tech with 1,078 yards and 23 touchdowns in the 2018 season, Nichols never panicked throughout his recruitment – even as a prospect with meager offers at Southfield A&T before transferring to Cass Tech in February 2017.

Nichols' lack of trepidation at a young age set the tone for the remainder of his high school career, and it proved to be the difference maker in his relationship with CMU.

Once Bonamego was fired, other schools immediately reached out to Nichols. He put those programs to sleep – pressing on as a committed Chippewa.

"I didn't want to leave a secure spot, plus I love Central," Nichols said. "I didn't want to make a move based off my teammates."

The 5-foot-11, 200-pound playmaker had offers from CMU, Akron, Ball State, Cincinnati, Indiana, Kent State, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Pittsburgh, Purdue, Syracuse, Toledo and West Virginia.

Central Michigan running back Lew Nichols signs his national letter of intent to play for the Chippewas at Cass Tech High School on Dec. 19.

Even if CMU Athletic Director Michael Alford wouldn't have brought in McElwain, Nichols said he always saw himself in a CMU jersey as a college football player regardless.

However, nabbing a former SEC Coach of the Year and Alabama offensive coordinator in McElwain put the nail in the coffin on Nichols' decision. At that point, he said there was no turning back.

Once McElwain was hired, McKinnie-Harper and Dingle began rethinking their recent decommitment, and both players in time landed on the Chippewas again. Rather than pressuring his teammates, Nichols kept quiet, remained focused and respected their choices.

"I don't mind where you go because that's you," Nichols recalls telling McKinnie-Harper and Dingle. "Make sure you have a spot that's secure that you like. Don't just leave because everything is unstable right now."

Nichols, as the recruit that never wavered while respecting the decisions of others, was enthusiastic to see his teammates recommit to CMU and sign right next to him.

Without the defensive presence of McKinnie-Harper and Dingle helping to put the ball in the hands of the offense, Nichols may have never earned all-state honors from the Detroit Free Press, Detroit News and Associate Press as a senior. 

Now, he gets to begin formulating a legacy of Cass Tech football success in Mount Pleasant, and McKinnie-Harper and Dingle will be right with him in doing so.

"That makes it even better," Nichols added.

McElwain is electrified for Nichols' ability to move the chains as a three-down running back. CMU's first-year coach also noted that Nichols "lets his play do the talking" when on the gridiron, directly emulating the three-star's respectful, lack of worry disposition.

"He does a really good job of getting north and south," McElwain said of Nichols. "He's a physically strong kid, a very good student. Another outstanding student-athlete from coach (Thomas) Wilcher's program."

Hoping to see the field as a freshman, Nichols is one of eight early enrollees, meaning he will be in Mount Pleasant to start classes at CMU on Jan. 7.

The difference in environment and culture from Detroit to Mount Pleasant is something Nichols is well aware of. He's lived in the Motor City all his life.

"I have good people and bad people around me," Nichols said. "When you go up to school, you just have to stay focused. Sometimes it's good to get away from people around you. It's business now."

Other early enrollees include quarterback Quinten Dormandy, quarterback Daniel Richardson, tight end Javon Gantt, offensive tackle Cameron Vaughn, cornerback Demarcus Governor, cornerback Dishon McNary and linebacker Logan Guthrie.

Even though Warren (Mich.) De La Salle 2019 three-star offensive lineman Danny Motowski, a new CMU signee, is not enrolling early, his desire to block for Nichols is stirring.

"I'm excited to open up holes for him," Motowski said. "He's a hard runner, and he can break tackles. I think it helps because we can only block so many people at once."

As his recruitment has ultimately come full circle – from an under recruited prospect early in his high school tenure to CMU signee – Nichols feels relieved.

Nichols committed to CMU on July 30 after one unofficial visit and never looked back. He stayed true throughout the Chippewas' 1-11 record and major coaching change.

Now, he's ready to compete, win a few Mid-American Conference championships and archive greatness into CMU's football program.

"This process was stressful," Nichols said. "I'm excited it's all over, and I am ready to get to work."