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UNLV punter’s bond with Raiders All-Pro paying dividends

Returning UNLV punter Marshall Nichols plays his home games in the same stadium as one of the NFL’s best punters,

Nichols and the Raiders’ AJ Cole also happen to share a personal coach back home in Atlanta, which has helped forge a bond between the two that has been very beneficial for the UNLV sophomore.

“It’s awesome and invaluable,” Nichols said after practice at the UNLV football facility on Monday. “I’m very, very lucky to have that relationship and be able to grow it. Every time he comes out here, I’m very thankful. And he’s very cool, too.”

It’s been helpful for Cole, as well. There are restricted periods where NFL players can’t use their team facility, so the ability to have not only a venue like UNLV to utilize but also some talented young special teamers to work with has been a positive.

“It’s good to get around a punting environment, work with them, be on the field and share thoughts,” Cole said. “Then if I have an opportunity to coach or share pointers, that’s cool too.”

Both punters played high school football in the Atlanta area and were mentored by Mike McCabe, whose One on One Kicking is one of the top private special teams academies in the country.

Nichols, who started his collegiate career at Mississippi State where he redshirted a year before transferring to UNLV and becoming the immediate starter last year, was a few years behind Cole but was definitely familiar with him.

He wasn’t disappointed when he got to know him better in Las Vegas.

“Me and him are very different punters. He’s like 6-foot-5, so a lot of the technical stuff, he’ll teach me and I’ll try to apply what I can,” Nichols said. “But a lot of it is mental. Just how he approaches every day, the practices and becoming a good player in-game.”

The improvement in Nichols has been evident. He handled all 59 punts for UNLV last season, ranking 45th in the nation with an gross average of 42.4 yards per attempt. Eight of his punts went for at least 50 yards, but distance has never been an issue.

Nichols knew he had to improve on his operation and hang time, areas where Cole has helped and new UNLV special teams coach James Shibest has noticed.

“(Cole) is out here all the time working in the summer,” Shibest said. “ It’s been great to have him and have him work with our guys on some of the little fundamentals and confidence. (Nichols) is a long-strider and a true 3-stepper. Most are 2.5 steps, so he’s corrected that and he’s getting more hang too.”

In addition to the estimated 10 to 15 times Cole was out at UNLV, he and Nichols were both at McCabe’s camp in Birmingham, Alabama., this summer.

“It’s pretty wild because there were probably 10 or 12 active NFL punters and a bunch of current college guys,” Nichols said.

He believes his level has risen this offseason, including his work with Cole, and is looking forward to showing it in the Sept. 2 opener against Bryant at Allegiant Stadium.

“I can improve my hang time, so we have more time to cover,” he said. “I feel like I have a year under my belt playing so just keep a clean mindset and try to transfer over all the work I put in during the offseason.”

Cole will be rooting for his protege and knows his presence has been helpful, but the All Pro doesn’t want to make it seem like he’s just a star athlete mentoring a college hopeful.

“I don’t think of it in that way,” he said. “I think of it as just me and Marshall going out for a kick.”

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on X.

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