New General: Riverside promotes Antwan Nicholas to head football coach

Generals name offensive coordinator and alum new coach

Riverside's Antwan Nicholas throws a pass during warmups before a game. Nicholas was named the Generals head coach this week. (Antwan Nicholas)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Riverside didn’t need to look too far to find its next head football coach.

The Generals filled the area’s last premier head coaching vacancy this week when they named Antwan Nicholas as the man to replace OJ Small. It was the final open job in the Gateway Conference, created when Small stepped down after 11 seasons with the Generals.

Among Gateway Conference schools, Mandarin (Toby Bullock), Ribault (Ram Pinckney), Wolfson (Step Durham) and Westside (Randy Randall) have also changed head coaches since last season.

“I’m very excited for the opportunity as well as the culture. Like the environment with the kids is definitely great for them buying into the team concept,” Nicholas said. “Nowadays, a lot of kids focus on offers as well as ... they get distracted by things on social media. Biggest thing now, they’re focused on the team moving forward, the environment, building relationships, as well as supporting each other. And that’s something you definitely need on a championship team for making that run and making that push.”

Nicholas is no stranger to the Riverside campus.

He played for the school and then went to college at Edward Waters. Nicholas played with the Generals with his older brother, Stephen, who went on to play seven years in the NFL with the Falcons. He’s currently a defensive quality control coach with the Buccaneers.

For Nicholas, 37, it’s his first high school head coaching job but he’s Riverside to the core. He’s been the program’s offensive coordinator since 2015, leading one of the area’s most consistent programs in that span. Riverside is 61-19 over the last seven years.

“You do this not necessarily for the money, but you definitely want to invest in the kids. The kids are buying into it, as well as parents, faculty. The support around here, just the environment and culture is just to enrich souls to grow and continue to grow and play.”

Small resigned last February to spend more time with his family after a highly successful coaching career.

Riverside had just two losing seasons under Small, his first two in 2012-13. He got the Generals on track in 2014 with a seven-win season and reached the playoffs for the first time the following year. Riverside’s first trip to the postseason under Small was also the first season with Nicholas running the offense. He arrived at Riverside after serving as defensive coordinator at Benedict College.

Small built Riverside to be able to handle the ebb and flow of transfers in present-day high school football, a significant achievement for a public school. Only Raines, under coaches Deran Wiley and Donovan Masline, has a longer current consecutive state playoff streak than Riverside’s seven in a row. The Vikings have reached the postseason 12 straight seasons.

“First of all, to God be the glory for that, as well as a great, awesome staff, athletic director, athletic department. Principal [Timothy] Feagins as well as principal [Scott] Schneider who was here, a couple of other principals as well,” Nicholas said. “Been awesome for supporting, being there, supporting the students and just building that type of atmosphere and culture where we can be productive and successful. They see the blueprint as far as what it takes and just giving that opportunity and buying into it. So, it’s just been awesome.”

About the Author:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.