Donte Nicholson touted as one of best safeties to play at OU

Updated: August 26, 2003, 5:27 PM ET

NORMAN, Okla. -- There was only one spot up for grabs on Oklahoma's vaunted defense when Donte Nicholson arrived on campus in the spring. Strong safety wasn't one of them.

That didn't matter much to the junior college transfer from California.

"I came in and wanted to play as soon as possible," Nicholson said. "I wanted to get out there on the field and show what I could do."

After a spring of watching the 6-foot-2, 210-pounder emerge as a dominant player, coaches had no choice but to yield to the obvious. They inserted Nicholson into the starting lineup and slid incumbent Eric Bassey over to a reserve role at cornerback.

Since then, Nicholson has earned nothing but praise for his quick adjustment to the Sooners' defensive scheme and his dazzling physical gifts. He's even gotten a little bigger -- Nicholson is probably a T-bone shy of 220 now.

"All indications in practices and scrimmages is that he's a very solid player," coach Bob Stoops said. "Donte can really have an impact for us at that position."

Nicholson has been so impressive that he's even drawn comparisons to former Sooners All-American and current Dallas Cowboy Roy Williams. Stoops calls Nicholson the most "natural" safety he's had since he's been in Norman, including Williams on that list.

"I reject that. I'm not Roy," Nicholson said, vigorously shaking his head. "There's never going to be another Roy Williams to come through here."

Maybe not. But the No. 1-ranked Sooners are eager to show off what they've found in the All-America transfer from Mount San Antonio Junior College in Walnut, Calif. He'll get his first start Saturday against North Texas.

"Donte is going to bring a physical presence and he has tremendous instincts," co-defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "He's fit in right away. Donte's a natural out there."

Nicholson, who led his team in tackles as a freshman and sophomore, chose Oklahoma over Arizona State and quickly enrolled in school for the spring semester.

The signing of Nicholson was a coup for the Sooners, who needed depth and experience in their secondary. Still, earning a starting spot on one of the nation's formidable defensive units -- one that returned 10 starters -- figured to be tough to come by.

Bassey, at a leaner 6-1 and 197 pounds, is one of the team's fastest players and had the fourth-best season for tackles for loss in Sooners history last year. He was a solid strong safety, but probably a better fit at corner, where there's less physical demands.

Nicholson helped his cause by quickly making an impression in spring practices, applying fierce hits on any player who ventured into his area and showing an uncanny knack for always being around the ball. His highly touted teammates took notice.

"He's done an exceptional job," said defensive end Dan Cody. "Donte just goes out there and will stick his nose in it. We want those pit bull-types like him out there."

So in a case of the rich getting richer, the nation's 10th-ranked defense last season may have gotten even better with the addition of Nicholson.

And it's not like they needed much help.< SOONER NOTES: Sophomore safety Brodney Pool will start in place of All-American safety Brandon Everage against North Texas. Everage, a senior, is serving a one-game suspension following his Feb. 12 arrest on a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge. The charge was dismissed for a lack of evidence more than two weeks ago. .... Junior punter Blake Ferguson has held off heralded freshman Cody Freeby in a competition for the starting spot. ... Following the expansion of Oklahoma Memorial Stadium by more 8,000 seats, school officials expect more than 81,000 fans at Saturday's game. That would be the largest crowd ever to witness a sporting event in the state. ... Oklahoma has won 13 of its last 14 games against Texas universities. The lone loss came at Texas A&M last season.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index