After a legendary career on the gridiron for Princeton football, unanimous First Team All-Ivy League linebacker Ozzie Nicholas ’24 committed last week to play his final year of college eligibility at Duke University as a graduate transfer. Nicholas tallied 104 total tackles in the 2023 season, making him the first Tiger to break triple digit tackles since Jon Olofsson ’11 in 2010.
Nicholas fielded offers from other Power 5 schools including University of Houston and University of Central Florida before choosing the Blue Devils.
The Southern Californian appeared in seven games over the course of his sophomore season, in what was just a taste of things to come. During his breakout junior season in 2022, Nicholas became known to Tiger football fans for his ability to cover the field from sideline to sideline. He recorded 75 total tackles, four tackles for loss, and a sack while forcing three turnovers that year. He was recognized for his excellent season as a stout box-linebacker with a Second Team All-Ivy honor.
Nicholas attributes his rapid growth over the years to the Princeton football community. “My teammates taught me how to work hard and keep others accountable. The strength staff played a huge part in my development physically with strength and speed,” Nicholas wrote to The Daily Princetonian. “I was lucky enough to play for a great staff, where the defense we ran was variable and complicated, forcing me to learn football better,” he added.
Nicholas entered the 2023 season set to captain the notoriously tough Tiger defense, and he exceeded expectations. The Princeton defense led the Ivy League in rushing yards allowed, points allowed, total yards allowed, turnovers, and passing efficiency. Nicholas’s campaign of 104 tackles, six and a half tackles for loss, and four and a half sacks included six games with double digit tackles. After terrorizing offenses all season long, he was named to the FCS All-American Third Team.
This past season, the Tigers 21–14 win over Harvard was one of Nicholas’s best memories of his Princeton career. “We had struggled significantly at the start of the year and we had a lot of long practices and discussions trying to figure out how to turn things around,” wrote Nicholas of the team before they played host to the Crimson. “It inspired me — to see my teammates, who were part of a team that was struggling, strap up and attack a team who had been dominating through their first five games. I was proud of what our team was able to execute that day in gaining some momentum for the season,” he added.
Nicholas will now take his talents to Durham, North Carolina, where the Duke Blue Devils are coming off of an 8–5 season. The Blue Devil defense, ranked 16th nationally in points allowed last year, will certainly benefit from Nicholas’s arrival — they’ll get the strong run support, ferocious tackling, and cerebral leadership needed from a middle linebacker.
Nicholas sees Duke as a perfect fit. “Duke really came out of nowhere, as my recruiting was almost over when they invited me out to visit. I’m glad I went because I got an opportunity to talk with the incredible staff that [Head Coach] Manny Diaz was able to build,” Nicholas wrote. “I had a great impression of Coach Patke, their defensive coordinator and inside linebacker coach, and what his plans were for me and the defensive scheme. I felt it was a place I could see myself dominate at the next level and help a team succeed, which is what I was looking for in this next step,” he continued.
Duke has been a popular destination for Tiger graduate athletes: Nicholas joins Jackson Emus ’24, a pitcher and first baseman for Princeton Baseball; Max Johns ’22, a guard on the Princeton Men’s basketball team; and Princeton Men’s Lacrosse star attacker, Michael Sowers ’20.
This Tiger-to-Blue Devil pipeline is reminiscent of the myth that Duke founder J.B. Duke offered his fortune to Princeton to rename the school, was rebuffed, and then built Duke in Princeton’s famous Gothic style. While the architecture in Durham might make Nicholas feel more at home, he is nonetheless poised to make a sizable contribution at one of the highest levels of college football, and Tigers fans should be on the lookout for his upcoming season.
Harrison Blank is an assistant Sports editor for the 'Prince.'
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