Nick Arbuckle’s ultimate lesson in leadership came in the most difficult circumstances.
He walked into his parents’ home his freshman year in high school and found his mom, Michelle, dead on the couch.
Her loss was unexpected and hit Nick’s father hard. After some shock, Nick remained calm.
“I had to hold things together until my dad could get things together,” he said. “It made me who I am today. It made me older than my age, able to take on responsibility better than others my age.”
Arbuckle has used his mom’s death as a way to keep pushing forward. After an under-the-radar career spent mostly as a tight end at acclaimed St. Bonaventure High in California, Arbuckle became a prolific quarterback at Pierce (Calif.) College, throwing for nearly 7,000 yards with 73 touchdowns. He is 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, loves Brett Favre and can run when needed, but he said he has learned to manage games.
He signed with Georgia State and is being counted on by fans to be the quarterback the team needs to provide leadership, stability and most important, wins, for a program that has one victory in the past two seasons.
Though coach Trent Miles said the competition is open, Arbuckle already is trying to inspire his teammates.
He enrolled at Georgia State in January and began organizing seven-on-seven passing drills. Miles said he came into the practice facility on a Sunday and heard noise inside one of the rooms. There, Arbuckle was breaking down film with the wide receivers.
When Arbuckle hosted a recruit, instead of taking him to see the sights in Atlanta they went and worked out.
“All the things that are gearing him toward being a true leader,” Miles said.
Arbuckle has earnestness when he talks. He looks people in the eye and like a leader, doesn’t spare the truth.
He listed several reasons why he left California to come across the country to Georgia State. He, as with many of Georgia State’s signees, liked the family atmosphere during his recruiting experience. Miles’ wife and children, as well as the wives of some of the other assistants, attended the recruiting dinners.
Family is important to Arbuckle, who has three older brothers and is very close with his father. He wants to be a coach when he’s through playing football and has begun to think about how to balance work and family.
“I wanted to be somewhere where I would feel at home and I would belong,” he said. “I followed my heart and my gut. Everywhere else didn’t feel genuine.”
Arbuckle visited Georgia State the weekend the Panthers were drummed 38-17 by South Alabama in the regular-season finale. He said the team looked like a mess, but instead of turning him off, it inspired him.
“It made me want to come where we could create a program and start a tradition,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The record books are still waiting to be written.”
Some of those leadership traits he learned from his father, a football coach, and his three older brothers, each of whom were quarterbacks.
Some lessons he learned on the field. Arbuckle said he hasn’t been on a team that has lost more than two games, or failed to appear in the playoffs or a bowl game.
“I know the attitude of a winning team,” he said.
Some lessons he learned from his mother, who Arbuckle said still teaches him. He said she had the type of voice that he could hear no matter where he was on the field. After a football game, he looked into the stands, and it hit him that she wasn’t there.
He finally cried.
“I learned to hide my bad emotions,” he said. “It made me a better person. From then on I’ve learned about my life. My mom sees my actions. I can’t go hide in my room or my car. I know she’s watching me, so I want to make her proud. I can teach other people the things she taught me.”