Montae Nicholson's speed on the football field and track was always very apparent. It was his speed in being able to transition from those sports to basketball that caught some by surprise.
Nicholson took two years off from basketball in high school and returned to the varsity team at Gateway High School for his senior year.
"He missed two years of basketball and after two weeks, it didn't look like he missed a beat," Gateway varsity basketball coach Mitch Adams said. "He is just a very strong, athletic, gifted person who was willing to do whatever and do anything that it took to win."
Nicholson has the rare combination of size -- he is 6-feet-3, 205 pounds -- and quickness, winning two gold medals this spring at the PIAA Class AAA track championships in the 110-meter hurdles and as part of the 400-meter relay team.
His high school coaches will be the first to tell you that Nicholson's size and speed were not his best assets.
"Overall, he was the best that I have ever been around as far as his overall physical gifts," said Donnie Militzer, his football coach during his senior year. "There are not that many kids that big who can run the way he can but who comes with hard work. The kid practiced harder than any kid I have ever been around. He worked very hard at being good, it wasn't by accident."
Nicholson, a three-sport athlete, has been named Post-Gazette East Xtra Male High School Athlete of the Year for the second year in a row. He accepted a football scholarship to play at Michigan State. He is currently in East Lansing, Mich., preparing for the upcoming season.
Nicholson was one of the top high school prospects in the state. Rivals.com rated him as a four-star recruit. The Spartans beat out Florida State, Pitt, Virginia Tech and Oregon. They recruited him to play defensive back but the coaching staff has indicated they may try him on offense. As a senior Nicholson had 41 catches for 810 yards and 15 touchdowns.
"I am excited to see how he develops at Michigan State," Militzer said. "It is going to be nice to follow him and just kind of see how he develops. I am interested to see how they are going to use him, he is so versatile. As far as I'm concerned, he can be an All-American receiver or safety."
Nicholson's versatility, size, speed and work ethic has many drawing comparisons to some other greats produced by the Gateway athletic program.
"He is one of the top athletes ever at Gateway, you can go back to Curtis Bray and compare," Adams said.
Bray, a 1987 Gateway graduate who died this past January, was considered one of the best WPIAL athletes ever. He was also a three-sport standout. He graduated with 12 letters while Nicholson graduated with eight, three in football, four in track and one in basketball.
"Anytime you get more than four letters at Gateway, you are special," Adams said. "Montae Nicholson is a special human being. The kid gave 100 percent every time out."
Playing three sports, there were times when Nicholson would miss practices but his coaches knew they had nothing to worry about.
"You knew he was going to be in shape," Militzer said. "He missed some summer workouts but it wasn't because he was sitting on his butt -- he was at a national track meet. You always knew he was going to be in tip-top shape. Everything he did was to make himself a better athlete."