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Lee County baseball star Nichols headed to Georgia

Lee County High baseball star Daniel Nichols, center, smiles after signing a letter-of-intent with the University of Georgia Wednesday at the Lee County High media center as he is joined by his father, Tim, mother, Michele Lloyd, right, and stepmother, Shelli Nichols.

Lee County High baseball star Daniel Nichols, center, smiles after signing a letter-of-intent with the University of Georgia Wednesday at the Lee County High media center as he is joined by his father, Tim, mother, Michele Lloyd, right, and stepmother, Shelli Nichols.

LEESBURG -- The ball jumped off Daniel Nichols' bat with a bit of lightning, soaring beyond the right field wall and into the top of the trees well beyond the fence.

It landed with a chorus of "oohs" and "ahhs" and eventually landed Nichols right into the lap of the Georgia Bulldogs.

Nichols, who plays either at first or third base for Lee County, signed his national letter-of-intent to become a Bulldog on Wednesday in front of family and friends in the school's media center.

He has done more than enough to make college coaches drool, but he took over in last June's Top 100 all-star game in Marietta, where Georgia's top prospects gathered to show off their talents.

Nichols was the only batter to slam three homers in batting practice, and then when he came to the plate he laced the first pitch he saw into the tops of the trees.

"There were about 70 scouts there,'' Nichols said. "I got about five or six calls that night.''

His father, Tim, was at the game and on hand Wednesday.

"Georgia, Georgia Tech and a lot of other schools followed him last year,'' Tim Nichols said. "But when he hit that home run into the tops of the trees that's when the buzz really hit a fever pitch.''

They all wanted Nichols, a natural at the plate who stings line drives with ease. Georgia, Georgia Tech, Auburn, South Florida, Mercer, Georgia Southern and a long list of other schools were interested in Nichols, but it took one visit to Athens to end the journey.

"After I visited Georgia, I didn't make any more trips,'' said Nichols, whose older brother, Thomas, was a star at Georgia Tech and The Herald's 2007 Player of the Year. "I stood on the bridge overlooking Sanford Stadium ... It was just awesome.

"I loved the campus,'' he added. "The atmosphere in Athens is awesome, and coach (Dave) Perno showed me how much he wanted me.''

Nichols felt at home, felt like he belonged and felt like he wanted to be a Bulldog forever.

The feeling was mutual.

"I don't know who is more excited, Daniel -- or the University of Georgia," said Lee County coach Rob Williams, who has had five of his players sign with the Bulldogs over the years, including assistant coach Kyle Keen.

Williams then added with a laugh: "I kept telling Georgia that he could sign Thursday or Friday, and they kept telling me, 'You can sign as early as Wednesday. Sign on Wednesday.' "

Nichols can play either first or third, but the Georgia coaches told him not to worry about it.

"They said they want to see me swing the bat and that they will find a position for me,'' Nichols said.

Nichols, a left-handed batter, can flat-out hit. He batted .404 with 36 hits last year as a junior, and drove in 27 runs in 28 games and scored 26 times. He belted four home runs and also hit .333 as a sophomore when he joined the varsity for the stretch run of the season.

"We moved him up from the JV team when he was a sophomore,'' Williams said. "And we were in a playoff game at Lakeside Evans and he hit a two-run home run (in the top of the sixth) that gave a us a 3-1 win. From that moment on, it was like the light switch went on, and last year was a continuation of that.

"He's just another outstanding player,'' Williams added. "He works hard every day to improve, and he's a team player. He played third base last for us because we had some injuries and needed help at third base. This year he will probably play first. He's a very good clutch hitter and we love to see him in that situation.''

Nichols was all smiles Wednesday, and so was his brother, Thomas, who never gave his kid brother a hard time about going to Georgia instead of going to his alma mater Georgia Tech.

"I've got friends who played there and I know the coaches at Georgia,'' Thomas Nichols said. "I'm really happy for him.''

It's been a long ride for Daniel, who played on a traveling team out of Savannah when he was 13 that won a national title. Some of the players from that team are at Georgia, making his decision even easier.

He arrived at the big day with his family by his side, and his father, who was there for every step of the way.

"I wasn't the best player when I was little,'' Daniel said. "But my dad kept telling me to work hard.''

He did, and today he's a Bulldog.