Like the rest of the professional sports leagues out there, the XFL unfortunately shut down their seasons due to the growing threat of COVID-19. While that clearly seems to be the right call, the reality is that it put a good bit of athletes out of work. For Deatrick Nichols, he was doing his thing with the Houston Roughnecks, leading the league in interceptions. However, it was all over after five games, but Nichols did enough to get the attention of others across the NFL and ultimately chose the Saints.
“They called me immediately actually and (asked if) I'm ready to go basically and I was ready to join,” Nichols said on Tuesday.
He revealed that other teams were involved in the decision-making process and had other offers, but chose New Orleans based on it being the best fit for him. It wasn't too long ago that Nichols was in the NFL, spending time with the Cardinals as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2018. Nichols made the team, making his debut against the Rams on September 16, 2018, primarily on special teams. As is the case with many players in the league on the practice squad, he went through several releases/re-signings/elevations with the Cardinals, but clearly did enough to warrant a reserve/future deal from the team in late December.
Fast forward to 2019, and Nichols did not survive final cuts. However, teams remained interested in him, as he had multiple workouts during the season, none of which included the Saints.
"I had a workout almost every week and that put a toll on me mentally, but I always believed in the process and everything like that.”
Unfortunately, Nichols didn't latch on with anyone and signed on with the XFL between Week 15 and Week 16 of the 2019 NFL season. He simply wanted to play some football, and couldn't pass up the opportunity, but continue believing in the process and controlled what he could control. Nichols was drafted in the 9th Round of Phase Four (defensive backs) in the XFL draft. He tallied 24 total tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack, and six pass defenses to go along with his league-leading three interceptions.
"Everybody's story is always going to be different. That's how I look at. It doesn't matter if you stay in the same household or whatever. Everybody's story's going to be different. So you’ve just got to take the good with the bad even though I don't feel like it was a bad, but that's just how I go about any situation I go through. Everybody's story's going to be different, unique and everything like that.”
The abrupt end to the XFL season certainly took its toll on Nichols, as the league offered up some very entertaining talent and rule changes.
“I was heartbroken at that. I was enjoying that little process and everything. The Houston Roughnecks took us under their wings and took very good care of us and it was just a loving thing just to be able to play some football. Once football is taken away from you you’re always a little bit down, but everything happens for a reason. You can't get too discouraged and (have to) just keep going.”
"They had guys like me basically who played in the NFL or something like that. Basically who had experience in some type of football. There was definitely still a (lot of) talent out there. So it wasn't like a little league I would say. You still had the ex (NFL)-players who were first, second rounders, third and everything like that out there. So the talent was there.”
Nichols' skill set includes playing special teams, as he revealed he has played on the kickoff team, as a gunner, kick returns, and punt returns - everything except field goals. He'll now be in the same conference as P.J. Walker again, who was picked up by the Carolina Panthers recently. Both were collegiate rivals, and Nichols is ready to see him again.
"I cannot wait. It is funny because we were in the same conference (AAC) in college, so we played each other a couple of times and we played some good ball against each other. When we found out we were on the same team, it was just like a love-hate thing just seeing another person play some good football. It’s a rival so it's like I love you, but you're taking some things away from me. So it’s going to be the same situation now.”
Like many of the free agents to join New Orleans, Nichols was quick to praise the culture of the Saints, saying that they look like a team that believes in executing their jobs.
"I'm a huge believer in working, executing my job and practicing hard. They take practice serious and everything like that from the outside looking in and attention to detail.”
"They want guys that execute, that believe in the system, that basically do their jobs. That's the type of guy that I feel like I am. I don't care about who gets the credit and everything like that. (All that matters) is all 11 doing their jobs. I feel like I’m a perfect fit for it.”
At the end of the day, Nichols is betting on himself and knows he has work to do, but has the attitude and mentality of a team player that New Orleans covets. He's a great story and will be someone to easily root for once training camp rolls around.