We lost two individuals with deep roots in Montgomery County athletics during the past two months, a former athlete, and an alum and coach.
Eric Nichols, the popular Gaithersburg quarterback who guided the Trojans to their first state championship in 1986, died in August at the age of 48.
Nichols was also the DC Touchdown Club’s Maryland High School Player of the Year in 1986 and led Maryland to a victory over Pennsylvania in the 1987 Big 33 All-Star football game.
Maryland’s 26-22 victory over Pennsylvania at Hersheypark Stadium marked the first time in history that a team from Maryland had beaten Pennsylvania in that game.
“That was one of the baddest quarterbacks I’ve ever seen in this area,” said former Seneca Valley standout Wayne Turner, “[He’s in the] top ten.”
During his high school career, Nichols played with many talented players at Gaithersburg including Tony Ayton, Pete Dyson, Robert Jackson, Tre Sutton, Terry Gassaway, Doug Joyce, Donald Frazier, Gene Cann, Van Chatman, Pat Calvin, Tyrone Fitch and John Gularson.
Nichols played for legendary Trojans’ head coach, the late John Harvill along with then-assistants Kreg Kephart, the late Fred Joyce and Joe Mencarini.
Gaithersburg captured the Maryland AA state championship in 1986 behind Nichols, who guided the Trojans to a 28-14 win over Springbrook at the University of Maryland’s Byrd Stadium, now called Capital One Stadium, in College Park.
“He was a silent leader,” recalled Ayton, who played on the 1986 state championship team. “He really didn’t have to say much to get his point across.”
Nichols was a leader by example according to Ayton; he was a multi-talented performer who could play various positions on the gridiron including special teams.
“He could punt that thing 56 yards – no problem,” said Ayton. “Because he was so valuable on offense we couldn’t put him on the defensive side. He could have played linebacker. He had a heart that wouldn’t quit.”
Meanwhile, longtime Paint Branch boys basketball coach Walter Hardy died last month at the age of 50.
Hardy, a former three-sport athlete at Paint Branch, was Sherwood’s athletic director at the time of his death. He’s survived by his wife, Mary, daughter, Olivia, and son, Chase along with numerous relatives and friends including Keith Adams, Cliff Warren, Jeff Sullivan, Keith Byrd, Hank Galotta and Jamaal Wise.
Hardy, who graduated from Paint Branch in 1985, played football, basketball and volleyball at the Burtonsville public school.
However, Hardy made his mark at Paint Branch as the boys’ varsity head basketball coach.
He spent nearly two decades at the helm of the program and guided the Panthers to the Maryland 3A state championship in 2000. His resume also included three region titles during his 17-year stint. Hardy also had a two-year stint as Kennedy’s athletic director before he took over at Sherwood in July.
“He was the nicest human being you could ever meet,” said Adams, Hardy’s former assistant at Paint Branch. “For a five-year period we were inseparable. In terms of helping, he would help anybody he could – anybody.”
Hardy was a beloved friend, confidant, coach and mentor to so many people.
“Coach Hardy is just going to be missed,” said Wise, a member of the Panthers’ 2000 state championship team. “He was very instrumental in that Paint Branch community.”