Dadi Nicolas earned national attention this week after a three-sack, seven-tackle performance against Pittsburgh. Nicolas, available to the media this week for the first time in over a year, enjoyed wreaking havoc on Pitt quarterback Tom Savage.
“I had fun. It was one of the best games, funnest games I’ve played since I’ve been here,” Nicolas said. “It was a big blessing. I’m just thankful for getting the opportunity from coach (Bud) Foster putting me in the right position to make these types of plays.”
Nicolas was born in Haiti but moved to Delray Beach, Fla. during an adoption process when he was three months old. During the adoption his name was changed to Wedley Estime, but legally changed it back to his birth name, Dadi Nicolas, after he turned 18.
After moving to the U.S., the redshirt-sophomore defensive end never left Florida’s borders until colleges were recruiting him to play. Florida International, Florida Atlantic, Kansas and Western Michigan all expressed interest in Nicolas, but initially he committed to play at Minnesota.
Once Virginia Tech came onto the scene, Nicolas, who knew others from South Florida that went to Tech — like Jayron Hosley — changed his mind.
“A couple big homies from my city that came here prospered and went to the next level. They said they treated them right here,” Nicolas said. “I see what Virginia Tech had to offer and I love the campus environment. It was the right fit.”
Despite playing just one year of high school football, Nicolas, who primarily was a basketball player, came to Tech with the intentions of playing right away.
“When I got here, when I came up, I had in my mind that I wanted to play right away. As a football player, that should be your attitude. What kind of football player would you be, or what athlete, period,” Nicolas said. “You’ve got to be competitive. I didn’t care who was here, I didn’t care who was ahead of me. I just wanted to win.
“That’s not how it worked out, and that’s fine. The people that’s in front of me, they’ve taken me under their wings. Great people. I love ‘em.”
Being so new to football, Nicolas redshirted his freshman year in an attempt to gain better understanding for the schemes and concepts of Foster’s defense.
“This is a big D1 college football program,” Nicolas. “It’s complex, it’s hard.”
He took a step backward though, when he was suspended after being arrested for stealing a bike in June 2012. He was reinstated in August of that year. Nicolas chose not to comment on the arrest or how it might have set him back on the field, saying “I’m past that.”
Listed at 6 feet 3 inches and 224 pounds, he has the combination of raw power and top-end speed that, if coupled with an complete understanding for the game, could produce incredible, consistent results.
“When I first met him, he told me he was 210. That joker was 190, 193, I guarantee you,” defensive line coach Charley Wiles said. “And when he got here, I think he was 200. And now he’s 230. So he’s put on 30 pounds of good weight.
“If we can get him to 250, that would be fantastic. He’s 225, 230 right now and he plays 250 now. If he gets 250, he’s going to play 270. When he puts his hands on you, he’s just a heavy-handed guy.”
Defensive end James Gayle isn’t surprised by the big game Nicolas had and expects more of them. The senior defensive leader saw Nicolas’ potential from the beginning.
“Dadi had a tremendous game,” Gayle said. “I warned the media about him early. I was like, 'He’s going to be one of the better players in the ACC. He showed them.'”
Gayle and Nicolas make up a large part of a defensive unit that leads the nation with 17 sacks, but because of Nicolas’ limited understanding of the game he hasn’t been able to see the field as frequently as he, or his coaches would like. For now he will be used almost exclusively as a pass rusher, like on Saturday when Foster lined him up as an outside linebacker with the sole responsibility of rushing the passer.
“Credit to him because he really has come such a far way from when he started. When he started you couldn’t get him lined up, you couldn’t do anything because he’s only been playing for so long,” said middle linebacker Jack Tyler. “He didn’t understand the positions and stuff like that.
“And now he’s kind of found his niche. You can see that he’s a heck of player and he’s only going to get better once the whole mental side catches up to his physical ability.”