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Gateway's Nicholson picks Michigan State over Pitt

| Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013, 2:42 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Gateway senior Montae Nicholson gets a hug from his mother, Jackie Crawford, after announcing Michigan State as his college choice Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013, in Monroeville.

The biggest challenge facing Gateway senior football player Montae Nicholson this season may have been keeping his mouth shut.

Nicholson said he picked a school last week, though he waited until Thursday afternoon to publicly offer a verbal commitment to Michigan State.

“Actually, I had my mind made up last week,” Nicholson said. “I just didn't tell anyone.”

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound wide receiver/safety picked Michigan State over Florida State and Pitt— in that order — and also counted Virginia Tech and Oregon among his top five.

A four-star recruit according to Rivals.com, Nicholson is considered the best safety in Pennsylvania and the 13th-best nationally.

Nicholson caught 41 passes for 810 yards and 11 touchdowns this past season for Gateway, which finished 8-3 and lost to Central Catholic in the WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinals.

Nicholson said he called Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio on Wednesday night, “and we were both fired up about it.” Someone who probably wasn't excited was Pitt defensive coordinator Matt House, a Michigan State alum who was involved in the Panthers' courting of Nicholson.

Nicholson wore beige jeans and an Abercrombie sweater at his news conference at Gateway. He sat next to his mother, Jackie Crawford, and younger brother, Michael Crawford, whose hair was dyed like Nicholson's.

To announce his decision, a nervous Nicholson tugged a white Michigan State cap over his head and delivered a sheepish smile.

“I just enjoyed myself up there a lot,” Nicholson said. “I felt like it was right for me with the academics and the athletics and what they're doing up there.”

Nicholson's biggest worry?

“The only thing I have to get over is the cold,” he joked.

Turning down the Panthers— who have also been rebuffed by recent Aliquippa commits Dravon Henry and Jaleel Fields — was “ridiculously hard,” he said. But Nicholson said he felt closer to several coaches on Michigan State's staff.

The choice surprised his parents. Crawford used to work at Pitt, and his father — also named Montae — is a Pitt alum.

“What was really challenging for him was, ‘Should he consider Pitt more than any other school?' '' the older Nicholson said. “When all was said and done, Michigan State really appealed to him more than any others.

Nicholson said Michigan State's coaches recruited him at safety, though there's a chance he could see some time on offense as well.

Dantonio even signed off on Nicholson running track come spring, the player said, and he hopes to major in some form of engineering.

No. 4 Michigan State (12-1) won the Big Ten and will play fifth-ranked Stanford in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day, but Nicholson said the Spartans' success didn't factor much into his decision.

“Not really,” Nicholson said. “Each school is doing real well athletically. For instance, Florida State is No. 1. That didn't change anything for me. It's more what they do on the practice field.”

To help make his decision, Nicholson sought advice last week from former Gateway coach Terry Smith, an assistant coach at Temple.

“He was giving me advice — completely unbiased, actually,” Nicholson said. “He was telling me to make the best decision for me, to do what feels right and listen to my gut.”

Which, in this case, led him to East Lansing.

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