Abilene High outside linebacker Nathan Guzman is the type program success story that interim Eagles coach Jeff Rhoads just loves.
A hard-working, team-first kid who has paid his dues and waited his turn, Guzman is finally getting his chance to shine this season as a senior. And in his first year as a starter after playing sparingly behind a talented group of backers last year, he is definitely making the most of it.
Through two games, Guzman leads the Eagles with 25 total tackles (18 solo) and two tackles for loss. And his two forced fumbles are second on the team behind only fellow senior Joseph Woodyard (3).
While that level of production has come as a surprise to some, including Guzman himself, Rhoads said it’s the culmination of years of hard work and should serve as an example to younger players of what can happen when one stays the course.
“If you build your program right, your leadership should come from your seniors,” said Rhoads, who is filling in for Mike Fullen while he undergoes cancer treatment. “They’ve got the most invested in the program. Usually our seniors have been with us all the way up, and they care. They’ve poured so much into this program, and Guzman’s one of those kids who has contributed every year at different levels.
“Now he’s on the varsity, this is his senior year, this is his time. So I’m proud of him and I’m thankful that we have him on our team.”
A reserved individual by nature, Guzman is something of a reluctant star.
The senior, who is content to put his head down and work, prefers to be part of a well-functioning unit than to be singled out.
“He’s kind of a quiet kid — kind of a quiet champion, if you will,” Rhoads said. “He just kind of sits in the back and he doesn’t talk a whole lot, but he just shows up and does his job. He listens in meetings, and those types of players, those dutiful players that you can count on and that you can trust, those are really the guys you need down the stretch.”
With such a subdued nature and little in the way of varsity track record — he recorded just a handful of tackles last season — Guzman wasn’t necessarily expected to be the playmaker he’s been thus far.
But below his quiet exterior burns a fire that goes largely unseen outside of fall Friday nights.
“I am quiet. I don’t really talk too much,” he said. “I like to keep things to myself, and when the moment’s right, that’s when I like to unleash it all. We have a saying, “Calm before the storm.” I’m a calm person, but when it comes time, that’s when I let it all out.”
With Guzman leading the way, the AHS defense has held its first two opponents — Amarillo Tascosa and Cooper — to an average of 24.5 offensive points per game. But heading into Friday’s District 2-6A opener at San Angelo Central, the Eagles are still winless at 0-2.
That’s something Guzman is hoping to change this week. After watching AHS miss the playoffs each of the past three years, he wants to be part of the team that ends the Eagles’ postseason drought, and starting league play with some positive momentum would go a long way toward accomplishing that goal.
That desire, again, speaks to the investment Guzman has made into the AHS program, Rhoads said.
“He’s an Abilene Eagle through and through, and that’s what we want,” Rhoads said. “We want the guys who are invested here at the mother school in town that are playing for the name on the front of the jersey. You win with guys like that. If you get enough of them, you win with guys like that.”
It’s that type of selfless, team-first player that Guzman aspires to be. While his impressive tackle numbers are beginning to be noticed and earn him a level of individual attention he’s unaccustomed to, he remains focused on what he can do for his team.
And that starts, Rhoads said, with being where he’s supposed to be when he’s supposed to be there and making plays when he has the opportunity.
“He’s just a solid player,” the coach said. “He plays with his shoulders square and his eyes up. He’s fundamentally sound and he’s very coachable. Most all the time, he fits in the right spot, and that’s big for us defensively, just fitting where you need to fit. Between that and not giving up the big play, that’s everything.
“Your fits on defense are the first half of it, and then finishing the play, getting guys on the ground is the other big part of it. If we can build off of him and guys can act the same way he is, square shoulders and getting to the right spot, in the right fit, in the right gap and wrapping up and getting guys to the ground, we’re going to be fine.”
For Guzman’s part, he’s just happy to be in a position to contribute to Abilene High’s football success.
He’s waited a long time and put in a lot of hard work for this opportunity, and he has every intention of maximizing the experience.
“It means everything to me to be able to go out there and play Friday night football,” Guzman said. “I’ve been waiting for that opportunity for three years. Nothing’s better than that. Nothing’s better than Texas football. It’s just all the hard work I put in in offseason finally paying off.”