Defensive end Jackson Dean Nicholson's voice impressed Arundel. Then Maryland. Then the country.

Katherine Fominykh
Contact Reporterkfominykh@capgaznews.com

Jackson Dean Nicholson, publicly, doesn’t use his last name. “Jack Nicholson” is taken. “Jackson Nicholson” is a mouthful, not to mention he found another musician already using it, a heavy-metal artist jamming in his room.

And Arundel’s “Jackson Dean” is anything but that.

He grew up on classic rock and country, a dead-end road with nothing but a gun-range and a swamp behind him.

“Spent more time in the woods than with actual people,” Nicholson said. “I was always drawn to music.”

It was there he eventually learned to play country music. His career first bud in his freshman year and now, as a senior, it’s blossoming.

Over a span of a little over three days, “Jackson Dean” became a national name.

Nicholson, a defensive end for Arundel football, stood before a microphone and a crowd of Wildcats parents and fans Friday before the team’s tilt against Chesapeake. It was the second time he’d played before a football crowd.

“I’m not really nervous when I have to sing in front of people. First five times you do it, the butterflies just go away. It’s all good after that,” Nicholson said. “We knew we were going to videotape it, and I think I was more anxious about that.”

His fingers started strumming chords to what would soon be background sound to the national anthem. When he opened his mouth to sing the familiar words, though, his voice sounded like it belonged somewhere much farther south than Gambrills, drifting alongside a glass of good whiskey.

After Nicholson sang the National Anthem, his teammates flooded out from behind him. The stadium cheered. The video, which was uploaded by Marci White McElhaney on Facebook and to the Jackson Dean YouTube page, quickly went viral.

Currently, Nicholson’s performance has 600,000 views on Facebook and over 5,000 views on YouTube — a growth of about 1,500 since Monday morning. It’s been played on country stations around the nation. People Nicholson has never met are sharing it on Facebook and Twitter.

“Social media’s been growing every day. Since the video’s been out, we got like 200 followers in the last 48 hours,” he said. “Facebook’s been going. I’m not really big on Twitter — I don’t know how to Tweet.”

The senior’s version of the anthem fits seamlessly into his entire brand of music. It’s smoky, more folksy and slow. He doesn’t want it to sound at all like the mainstream top 10 that cycles on country radio.

Internet fame isn’t Nicholson’s biggest platform to date either, although it’s close. He’s collaborated with producer Frank Green and already worked on a record, splitting time in Baltimore and Nashville studios, and has performed on stages in both cities as well.

“But that was … it was something people don't normally get,” Nicholson said. “It was very cool. I probably knew 90 percent of the people sitting in those stands, and they had no idea I was doing it ‘til I brought my guitar out.”

He has the support of Arundel football behind him. A few of his teammates come out to shows to see him, though admittedly not all of them are keen on country music. Coach Jack Walsh first learned about his defensive end’s passion around Nicholson’s sophomore year.

“We support it as much as we can, and he does a good job managing it between football and that,” Walsh said. “How do you tell an 18-year-old not to chase his dreams?”

Arundel (7-1) is playoffs-bound and in good standing after bringing down a formidable team. But for Nicholson, he’s adamantly certain this fall will be his last season with football. He’s not aiming to play ball in college; he’s not even planning for college.

“This is my last year, then I’m done. I’ve got until January, I’ll have all my credits done, and I only have to be enrolled for this semester,” he said. “I got a waive by my principal and she’s very supportive of what I do.

“I’m going to go for it.”

Nicholson has a blueprint laid out down in Nashville, as well as a few fruitful meetings he can’t disclose, though the thought of them spreads a smile across his face.

For Walsh, the fact that one of his players found something outside of football is encouraging.

“There’s life after football and a lot of our guys are starting to realize that as the season winds down,” Walsh said. “We’re all supportive of him taking the next step towards his future and his goals.”

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