Nichols & Overbay headed to NFL rookie mini-camps this week - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Nichols & Overbay headed to NFL rookie mini-camps this week

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Matt Nichols was the Big Sky Conference's Offensive Player of the Year in both 2007 and 2009 (Photo: EWU Athletics) Matt Nichols was the Big Sky Conference's Offensive Player of the Year in both 2007 and 2009 (Photo: EWU Athletics)

(from EWU Sports Information)

Eastern Washington University head football coach Beau Baldwin has twice the reasons to be a Dallas Cowboys fan.

His record-breaking former quarterback Matt Nichols will join the National Football League team as an undrafted free agent, the Cowboys officially announced on Sunday (April 25). There, he will compete against three other quarterbacks, including Baldwin's former teammate and the first collegiate quarterback he coached.

Besides Nichols, Eastern tight end Nathan Overbay will sign a free agent contract with the Denver Broncos, with that official announcement made on Monday (April 26) by the Broncos. Overbay is one of two un-drafted tight ends the Broncos will sign, in addition to three already on their roster following the trade of Tony Scheffler to Detroit.

The Cowboys announced they have agreed to terms with 17 free agents, who will attend the Cowboys' rookie mini-camp May 1-3 at the team's Valley Ranch training facility. Denver's rookie mini-camp takes place those same days as the Broncos added 19 free agents. Also present at the mini-camps will be selections from seven rounds of the NFL Draft, which concluded Saturday (April 24).

Nichols joins three others at the quarterback position on the Dallas roster, including starter Tony Romo, 14-year veteran Jon Kitna and second-year pro Stephen McGee out of Texas A&M. Kitna is a former Central Washington University quarterback who Baldwin coached at CWU. In fact, Baldwin was beaten out for the quarterback job at Central back in 1992 by Kitna.

"It is very cool," said Baldwin, who has communicated back and forth with both Kitna and Nichols. "I know Jon will look to help him out. It's a good spot for Matt to be in from that perspective."

Since leaving Central, Kitna has been with Seattle, Cincinnati, Detroit and now Dallas during his NFL career. He was signed by Seattle as an undrafted free agent in 1996.

"There are a lot of similarities," said Baldwin. "Both have a lot of college starts and have played a lot of football. A lot of times you only see players enter pro football after being starters in college just one or two years. That was one thing that gave Jon a leg up.

"Both are also ultra-competitive -- they want to win at whatever they are doing," Baldwin added. "Both are football junkies and students of the game, and they make the most of opportunities that come their way. I know when they get a chance to compete on the golf course, they'll be the same way and will do everything they can to beat one another."

Nichols is a 2005 graduate of West Valley High School in Cottonwood, Calif., and broke 14 school records and six Big Sky Conference marks in his 47-game career (45 as a starter). He passed for 3,830 yards and 33 touchdowns as a senior, giving him a total of 12,616 yards and 96 touchdowns in his career. His career yardage total ranks sixth in FCS history and his touchdown total is 10th.

Both Nichols and Overbay earned NCAA Football Championship Subdivision All-America honors in 2009 and were first team All-Big Sky Conference selections. Nichols was the Big Sky's Offensive Player of the Year in both 2007 and 2009.

Overbay is a 6-foot-5, 270-pound senior who graduated in 2005 from W.F. West High School in Chehalis, Wash. He caught 51 passes for 588 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior at Eastern, and in his 43-game career (22 as a starter) he caught 93 passes for 1,189 yards and a school-record for a tight end with 19 touchdown receptions. He is the nephew of Toronto Blue Jays major league baseball player Lyle Overbay.

"Nate feels very good about it -- Denver is a great opportunity for him and thinks it's a good fit," said Baldwin. "He has a great chance to make that team. He will have a full-time tight end coach watching his every move -- here he was pretty much coached by committee because teams at the FCS level don't always have a full-time tight end coach.

"Nate has the physical tools -- I don't know if I've ever coached a receiver with better natural hands than Nate," Baldwin added, indicating that Overbay was a wide receiver in high school before being converted to tight end at EWU. "He's really going to blossom. The ceiling is extremely high for what Nate can do at the next level."

Nichols is being represented by Seattle-based Cameron Foster, who has been the agent for several former Eagles, including Michael Roos of the Tennessee Titans.

Baldwin said he was somewhat surprised that Nichols was not drafted, but knows he will get a chance to show what he can do.

"You never know -- but yes, it surprised me a little bit," he said. "If I had to guess one way or another I would have thought he would get drafted. At the same time, nothing every totally surprises me. Regardless of whether he was taken in the sixth or seventh round, or as a free agent, Matt still is going to be able to show what he can do. I feel confident that he has the skills and mental makeup to make a team."

One of the players Nichols will throw to this weekend is Elon wide receiver Terrell Hudgins, who was also a free agent signing by the Cowboys after a highly productive FCS career. Hudgins holds 10 NCAA receiving records and achieved nine of those his senior year when he was runner-up to Appalachian State quarterback Armanti Edwards for the 2009 Walter Payton Award, which honors the top offensive player at the FCS level.

He eclipsed four records held by 2010 NFL Hall of Fame inductee Jerry Rice, including the NCAA mark for most career receptions, which now stands at 395. Hudgins also tops NCAA annals with 5,250 career receiving yards. The 6-foot-3 wideout caught an FCS-record 123 passes for a Southern Conference-record 1,633 yards and led the nation in receiving yards per game (136.1) and receptions per game (10.3) in 2009.

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