Iowa State’s athletic family has endured some tragic losses over the last several years.
The football team in particular has been hit hard. Players Stevie Hicks, Cris Love, Ennis Haywood, Matt Grosserode and Justin Eilers have passed on far too early in their lives.
Add in the deaths of basketball star Barry Stevens, radio voice Pete Taylor, head coach Glen Anderson, star gymnast Marie Rae Sopper and longtime sports information director Harry Burrell, and it’s been a cruel twist of fate for those who knew them.
Another former great died this week. Here is Iowa State’s release from Wednesday:
Dwight Nichols, a Korean War veteran who became the All-American captain of Iowa State’s celebrated 1959 “Dirty Thirty” team, died Monday in Dallas, Texas.
He was 74.
“Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to the Nichols family,” said Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads. “If you know Iowa State football, then you know the Dirty Thirty. If you know the Dirty Thirty, you know about Dwight Nichols. There isn’t a tougher football player in Iowa State history.”
Nichols, a Knoxville native, was a force as a sophomore in 1957, leading the Big Seven Conference and ranking third in the country in total offense.
He was named the conference’s Most Valuable Player in 1958, amassing 1,172 yards in total offense. Nichols not only led the conference in total offense, but also in rushing. His school-record 815 rushing yards ranked him third in the country and he finished the year fourth in the country in punt returns.
Nichols turned out to be a perfect fit in Iowa State’s single-wing offense.
In 1959, Nichols led the famous “Dirty Thirty” squad, a team that shrank from 55 to 30 players before the first game of the season.
The Cyclones earned their nickname from trainer Warren Ariail after trudging off a muddy field in a season-opening win at Drake. Iowa State fought to a 7-3 record, including a season-ending 35-12 loss at Oklahoma that ended the Cyclones’ dream of a Big Seven title and Orange Bowl appearance.
Nichols spurned pro football and went on to a successful career, earning a master’s degree while working in financial markets and insurance.
If the Dirty Thirty was Iowa State’s most beloved team, Nichols was its star, becoming only the second player in Big Seven history to lead the conference in offense three times.
As a senior in 1959, he was named first-team All-America. His all-Big Seven selection marked the first time a Cyclone football player had received the honor three times in a half-century. Nichols was the first ISU player to place among the top 10 vote-getters in the Heisman Trophy balloting, finishing eighth.
Nichols closed his career as the all-time Big Seven rusher with 2,232 yards on 638 carries. His 638 carries ranked second in NCAA history at the time.
Nichols ended his career second in Big Seven history with 3,949 yards of total offense.