As a kid, they called him "Hollywood."
Bigger than most of the kids his age, Ced Nicely had an endearing personality and athletic ability that exceeded everyone’s wildest expectations.
Running around the Boys & Girls Clubs of Lanier, as a child, Nicely was easy to spot on the basketball court — his favorite sport as a kid — since he was always the largest among other boys his age. Now a senior at Gainesville High, the 6-foot, 5-inch, 305-pound offensive lineman, has settled comfortably into his future in football.
Even though his early prowess on the hardwood was where Nicely got his flashy nickname (one he’s since shed), he continued to grow throughout his days with the Red Elephants and quickly showed up on the recruiting radar of many major Division-I football programs.
On Wednesday, he made those dreams come true, signing to play football for head coach Lane Kiffin at the University of Mississippi.
“Ced is so athletic and his background in basketball has a lot to do with that,” Gainesville football coach Heath Webb said. “There’s not very many guys with his size and athletic ability.”
In addition to being physical in the trenches, Nicely is known for having the biggest personality in the locker room, his coaches said.
“I am so proud to know Ced and watch him grow and develop as a person,” said Red Elephants boys basketball coach Chuck Graham, who first met Nicely at around age 8, while working with the Boys & Girls Clubs. “During the signing ceremony today, I almost got teary eyed.”
Nicely was recruited to Ole Miss by his offensive line coach Randy Clements, who first saw Nicely in 2019 on a visit to Gainesville, while he was still coaching at Florida State.
Nicely was later contacted by Clements when the coach moved to Mississippi, having never forgotten the long and athletic offensive tackle he met at Gainesville High.
Webb told Nicely it would be good to take a look at Ole Miss.
“I told Ced to ‘flirt with the ones that are flirting with you,’” Webb said.
Nicely also held offers from Georgia Tech, where former Red Elephants left tackle Jordan Williams started every game at right tackle as a freshman in 2020, and South Carolina, among other offers.
Gainesville graduate Makius Scott, a defensive lineman, announced last week that he would also be playing at Georgia Tech in 2021, after spending one season at the University of South Carolina.
Nicely said he was not swayed by having two of his former teammates, both one year older than him, playing at Georgia Tech.
Nicely remained loyal to Ole Miss after his initial verbal pledge Oct. 16.
“I feel like I’ll have a great chance to get in there and compete at Mississippi,” Nicely said. “It’s in a small town, a lot like Gainesville.”
Due to coronavirus precautions schools have taken with recruits visiting, Nicely said his first trip to the school campus will be when he moves to Oxford, Mississippi.
Webb said Nicely benefited from having college coaches regularly visiting Gainesville’s campus in 2018 and 2019 to court Williams and Scott.
In 2020, the Red Elephants’ coach said Nicely took on the leadership role, along with developing a ‘nasty edge’ needed to become an elite offensive lineman.
“The biggest thing Ced did was work on his physicality,” Webb said.
Even though football is first and foremost for Nicely becoming successful in college, his affinity for basketball never went away.
Nicely said his mother, Temecia, and father, Cedrick, both played basketball in high school.
And his cousin, Patrick Hamilton, was a Red Elephants hoops legend who went on to play at the University of Georgia (1985-89) and still holds records for steals in a season (89) and in a single game (7) with the Bulldogs.
Nicely joined the varsity basketball team, as a junior, for the Red Elephants.
Graham can tell countless stories of Nicely’s prolific basketball ability. The Red Elephants coach knew keenly that Nicely always wanted to play basketball at the next level, but that goal was in the rear view by the time he was a 270-pound sophomore offensive and defensive lineman.
The best example of the big man’s basketball skill: Nicely can stand flat-footed under the goal and do a two-handed dunk with relative ease, Graham said.
“It’s one of the most impressive things I’ve seen,” said Graham, who is in Year 3 as Gainesville’s basketball coach.
And then there’s the Lanierland story.
Playing against Chestatee, the nimble 300-pounder went on a fast break with the ball and capped it off with a thundering dunk.
Graham has a rule for dunking in a game for Gainesville. First, players have to make five straight in practice without missing before doing it in a game.
However, Nicely was late to join the team, due to football, and was allowed to give everyone a treat.
The Red Elephants’ coach once let Nicely play point guard in practice after he made 3 of 5 3-point tries. With control of the offense, Gainesville’s biggest player ran the lane and dunked the ball.
Everything looked normal, at first, but his momentum coming down from swaying on the rim caused him to land on his back.
Nicely said it didn’t hurt or leave a scratch.
Graham said Nicely promptly popped up off the ground with a big grin, as to say "I’m okay!"
“I thought it was going to leave a hole in the floor,” Graham joked. “But all the kids went crazy and Ced had a big smile on his face.”