Former Hen Nichols drafted by Bears

 

Delaware defensive lineman Bilal Nichols was the first Blue Hen drafted since 2015. (Delaware sports information/Mark Campbell)

NEWARK — Well, it’s not like Bilal Nichols’ new coach will question the youngster’s alma mater.

When Nichols, the Delaware defensive tackle, heard his name called in the NFL Draft on Saturday, it was by the Chicago Bears — whose first-year head coach just happens to be former Blue Hen Matt Nagy.

Nagy and the Bears took Nichols in the fifth round, making him the 145th pick in the draft. Nagy was the one who called Nichols to tell him the news.

“It’s truly the best moment of my life, one of the most humbling moments in my life,” Nichols was quoted on the Bears’ website. “I’d like to personally thank Coach Nagy also for believing in me. It’s great, him coming from my school. We have a great relationship. I was extremely happy for him once he got his job in Chicago.”

A Hodgson Vo-Tech grad, Nichols was the second Delawarean taken in this year’s draft. On Friday, Salesianum School grad Brian O’Neill — an offensive lineman from Pitt — was drafted in the second round (No. 62 overall) by the Minnesota Vikings.

The 6-foot-4, 306-pound Nichols is only the third UD player drafted since 2008 and the first since tight end Nick Boyle went to the Baltimore Ravens in the fifth round of the 2015 draft. He’s also the first in-state Blue Hen player drafted since Dan Reeder in 1985.

Bilal Nichols

Raised by his grandparents in Newark, Nichols said this moment started seeming more possible to him as his college career went along. As a senior this past fall, he was a first-team all-Colonial Athletic Association pick and third-team FCS Division I All-American.

He got the chance to prove himself against higher-level competition at the East-West Shrine All-Star Game and then at the NFL Combine.

“The first time I stepped on campus, that was always a goal of mine,” Nichols said about being drafted. “I knew I had the opportunity to get there. Once my senior year came around, it really started to click. Once I got the chance to see scouts coming to practice and things like that, it really started to click for me.”

By the time this weekend rolled around, Nichols had a pretty good idea he would either be drafted of signed as a free agent.

He knows the thrill of being drafted only lasts so long. Now he’s got to prove himself in camp with the Bears.

“That’s the exciting thing, just knowing that I’m going to be able to compete in a camp and earn my spot on the team,” said Nichols. “I live for things like that. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

The 6-foot-7, 297-pound O’Neill is known for his athletic ability. He was a tight end at Sallies, where he was the state Players of the Year in boys’ basketball in 2015.

While he still needs to get bigger, most NFL experts think he’s got a big upside.

“Brian was probably the best athlete of all the offensive lineman in this draft,” Vikings Director of College Scouting Jamaal Stephenson was quoted on the Vikings’ website. “You watch this guy get out and pull, it’s unbelievable how fast he moves and the ability to change directions.

“You watch him catch passes, you may have seen the clip. He’s running the ball,” Stephenson added. “You do see that athleticism. I think that helps at the second level.”(Wesley College’s Matt Gono wasn’t drafted on Saturday but the 6-foot-4, 306-pound offensive lineman signed a free-agent contract with the Atlanta Falcons late Saturday.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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