After leading nation in rushing yards, Lew Nichols III feeling 'good pressure' ahead of 2022 season

CMU sophomore running back Lew Nichols III talks on the ESPN3 set during the Mid-American Conference Football Kickoff Tuesday, July 26 at the House of Blues in Cleveland, Ohio.

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Lew Nichols knows his name will be in headlines and on awards lists ahead of the 2022 college football season. The nation's reigning leader in rushing yards, Nichols is no secret to opponents now. A year ago, when he was an emerging backup to Kobe Lewis, it may have been a different story. 

Then, Lewis went down with a season-ending knee injury and Nichols took the reins. The rest is history. He ran for 1,848 yards, second most in CMU's single-season history, and scored 16 rushing touchdowns en route to being selected as the Mid-American Conference Offensive Player of the Year. 

Since his historic 2021 season, Nichols has seen the public perception change. Off the field, he's inked Name, Image and Likeness deals with Barstool Sports and Magnuson Performance along with launching his own merchandise and trading cards through VIP Sports Management. 

Meanwhile, he's seen his name pop up on the Maxwell and Doak Walker award watchlists. He was also named a preseason All-American by the Sporting News, Phil Steele and Athlon Sports. 

Even so, the Detroit Cass Tech product said there's no bad pressure coming with the added attention and expectation. 

"No, definitely not any pressure," Nichols said. "If anything, it's good pressure. I'm just excited. You know, a lot of eyes are on me now, a lot of people are starting to pay attention. Not really any pressures other than good pressure at this point." 

With Lewis opting to transfer to Purdue in the offseason, Nichols will return to the starting spot. His backups will be young, as Myles Bailey and Marion Lukes are sophomores. Despite that, both have play-making ability that could shine through with added opportunity. 

"They're very talented, hard working and they're ready to make some plays," Nichols said. "You know, we lost Kobe, but we got a lot of talent in that room, a lot of talent on our team period. So those guys are excited to make plays."

In his fourth season, Nichols is the elder statesman in the running back room. Not long ago, it was him in the shoes of current underclassmen Bailey, Lukes and Jordan Ramsey. 

In 2019, Nichols played four games before redshirting, learning from eventual NFL running back Jonathan Ward. Now, it's Nichols passing along the lessons. 

"Just being grateful for every opportunity you get when you go out there," Nichols said. "Every carry, everything you put on film, just be proud of it. When you turn on that film after the game, you want to be proud of what you put on. And you want to be a reason to say why your team won the game."

As Nichols enters an important season, he does so alongside fellow 2019 recruit quarterback Daniel Richardson. Much like his running back, Richardson entrenched himself as the starter with a breakout 2021 season. 

"I've seen him grow tremendously, just from his confidence as a player and a quarterback," Nichols said. "And then being a leader, as the quarterback, being the voice, the heart and soul of the offense and a team has just been very fun. To see him grow up and lead guys and make plays. So it's been exciting."

Heading into their fourth season together, the duo of Richardson and Nichols are part of a Chippewa team that has been picked to finish third in the MAC West by the preseason media poll.  

"It really doesn't matter to me," Nichols said. "Whether they have us first or last or whatever, you've really gotta take it as motivation. So you really can't overlook it, just see it for what it is. There's some games that you have to play regardless."