McDonogh soccer star Richie Nichols was 8 years old when he started going to Maryland’s Ludwig Field to watch the Terps men’s soccer team with his father, Steve, then the coach for the Eagles, and his older brother, Stephen.
The atmosphere was electric and there were usually several McDonogh graduates on the field.
When his dad became head coach at Loyola Maryland in 2014, Richie’s Friday night plans switched to watching the Greyhounds at Ridley Athletic Complex. In recent years, he also has been able to support Stephen, who is a junior there.
Now a high school senior and one of the most coveted players in the state, Richie had several colleges interested, with the two programs he grew up watching topping the list.
Last week, Nichols made it official, committing to national power Maryland to get the chance to play in front of those frenzied crowds in College Park. He was grateful to always have his dad’s support in whatever decision he made through the process, but passing on the news that he wanted to become a Terp was also difficult.
“When I finally made my decision it was super hard to tell him. It was super heartbreaking for me,” he said. “I grew up cheering on Loyola, always wanting the best for them, and as soon as I made the decision, my dad, my mom, my grandparents and friends were all behind me. It [stinks], but as long as Loyola is OK in the long run, which I’m sure they will be because my dad is a great coach, and I’m OK, I’m glad I made the decision.”
Maryland went 11-8-2 last season and made its 19th straight NCAA tournament appearance, reaching the second round. Nichols, who is currently playing for his Baltimore Armour club team while the high school season remains postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, hopes to play next fall for the Terps. He’ll be following several former McDonogh standouts who went on to play at Maryland, including Mike Marciano, Marquez Fernandez, George Campbell and Connor Smith.
“Richie is a versatile center midfielder that can really do any job in there,” McDonogh coach Brandon Quaranta said. “He can sit deeper in the midfield and provide stability for your defense and link play or he can play higher up the field and create chances and score goals. The ability to be able to do all those roles effectively at the top level is a pretty special thing for a midfielder.”
Steve Nichols always told his son that he would support whatever decision he made and would help in any way, letting his assistant coaches do most of the recruiting on Loyola’s behalf. Under Nichols, the Greyhounds have become a formidable mid-major program and made a strong case in their chase for the younger Nichols. Loyola finished last season 10-7-2, atop the Patriot League standings for a third season in a row, and a 1-1 draw at then-No. 2 Wake Forest showed they can compete with anybody.
As Loyola coach, Steve Nichols saw a player who might have helped the Greyhounds get over the top. As Richie’s father, he encouraged his son to follow his heart. Richie is appreciative.
“I want to thank my Dad for toughening it out with me and allowing me to choose what I want to do and not so much forcing anything on me,” Richie said. “He was always so open to me going to wherever I wanted to go as long as the financials were right and he was always on my side.”
Still, Steve Nichols can’t help but wonder as he considers what could have been.
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“He would take us over the top — I go to bed at night, cry myself to sleep now. Hopefully, I’ll get over it," he said with a laugh. “But he’s my son and I’m trying to be happy about it.”