No one on a football team has a more mentally demanding job than the big guys on the offensive line. It’s not dependent on knowing the ins and outs of the playbook, but instead on the ability to stay consistent, to shake off bad plays.
And, with everything Jared Nickel has had to go endure in the past year, the fact that he’s as headstrong as he is makes him a natural for the job.
In one year, Nickel, 12, has overcome the death of his older brother, the divorce of his parents and the move from rural Oklahoma to Plant City.
“He’s the strongest person I know,” his mother, Lisa Nickel, says. “He gets me through.”
On the surface, there’s no way to tell that any of this happened. Jared is a normal, happy kid. He likes hanging out with his friends and plays football to keep busy outside of school. He plays left guard for the Plant City Dolphins’ Junior Varsity team, sometimes switching to left tackle, and he loves to pancake anybody who lines up in front of him. When football’s playing on the television, he’s rooting for his Oklahoma Sooners.
He’s always loved the game, but his passion has grown since tragedy first struck the Nickel family.
AN EMPTY SUMMER
Jacob Nickel was also very much in love with the game of football.
Unlike his little brother, Jacob liked to play on the defensive side of the game and rush the passer. Helena, Okla., was such a small town that the high school fielded an eight-man team. Jacob was one of the defensive ends. Jared really looked up to his older brother.
So, this loss hurt the worst.
In the summer of 2012, Jacob was killed after accidentally flipping his truck while driving.
“There was no other car,” Jared says. “It was just his truck.”
As the family mourned Jacob’s death, Jared turned to his faith to stay positive. He now pays tribute to his late brother in a number of ways.
Jacob wore No. 64 on the football field, so it was natural for Jared to want to switch numbers, as well. But, that will have to wait for another time.
“I couldn’t get No. 64 for the Dolphins,” Jared says. “So, I had to pick 34 instead.”
However, he was able to get something to wear to honor his late brother. He wears two rubber bracelets on his right wrist: one white, one black. Both were made to honor Jacob’s memory. One also has a fitting Scripture for Jared. He, too, is driven by his faith.
He also collects any pennies he finds, because of a poem that was shared with the family after Jacob’s death.
“If you ever find a penny on the ground, an angel threw it down for you,” Lisa says. “That’s the short version of the poem.”
Lisa also keeps a running journal of their penny finds on her phone, a practice that keeps Jacob’s memory alive.
After Jacob’s death, the Nickels’ marriage began to unravel.
“My dad wasn’t really that nice to me and my mom, but he just tried to act nice to me,” Jared says. “And I just didn’t really want to see him that much, because of the way he treated me and my mom.”
Lisa had been married to the same man for 25 years but says she and her husband just found each other growing apart over time. They decided to officially end the marriage in mid-February.
Lisa had previously reconnected with Mike Harrison, an ex-boyfriend living in Plant City and ended up dating him again after the divorce. Jared is grateful to have Harrison in his life now, and Lisa couldn’t be happier about it.
Things went so well that the Nickels decided to move to Florida to be with him. They arrived in Plant City in May. Jared enrolled at Tomlin Middle School and signed up to play for the Dolphins. His coaches and teammates call him “Oklahoma,” which Lisa and Harrison printed on the backs of Dolphins T-shirts for game days.
Weathering all of those storms was tough for Jared, as it would have been for anyone. But, he stayed strong and credits two simple things.
“Faith and football,” Jared says.
Contact Justin Kline at firstname.lastname@example.org.