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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Nieto finds his groove on defense for Permian - Odessa American: Oavarsity

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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Nieto finds his groove on defense for Permian

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Posted: Thursday, October 17, 2019 7:32 pm

Prior to this season, Christian Nieto had never played on defense before.

The Permian junior, who had previously played at quarterback, had always been on offense.

But making the jump to varsity, Nieto had to adjust to a new role for this season, becoming a cornerback and now he feels like he’s getting the hang of it.

The transition began during spring ball this year where Nieto admits it took some getting adjusted too.

“At first it was rusty,” Nieto said. “I didn’t have any idea. I had never played defense in my life, but I have coaches and people who have supported me.”

With a little time and patience, he’s been able to grow into his new position.

“(Secondary coach Raul) Sanchez and (defensive coordinator Vance) Washington have worked very hard to help make the transition go well with me,” Nieto said. “They’ve helped me out a lot.”

The coaches moved him over to defense because of his size and speed.

“We really liked his size, he’s 6-1 and he runs well,” Washington said. “He showed that in track season when he ran the hurdles.  He’s a pretty good athlete, so we put him at cornerback to see how he would do. He’s come on really strong.”

Washington has seen how far Nieto has come in a short amount of time at his new spot.

“He’s made tremendous improvement,” Washington said. “He had been a quarterback all his life and we saw some good athletic ability in him, so we moved him over to cornerback. He was really shaky about it, but he’s smart kid and he wants to be good. That means a lot. He’s really coming on and he’s going to be a good player for us.”

Playing his first season at the varsity level in addition to being on the defensive side of the ball, Nieto has finds himself at the starting position where he has so far made 15 tackles this season along with three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup.

The confidence has grown not only for him but also for everyone else on his unit. The Panthers’ defense has made steady improvement since the start of the season. After allowing 132 points combined in their first three games of the season, the Panthers’ have since allowed only 28 total in their last three games.

“I feel like our confidence has gone up as a unit,” Nieto said. “We’ve really learned how to work with each other. Our chemistry has gone up. Those are my brothers on the field. We have confidence in each other both on and off the field.

“I feel like I’ve made a big improvement ever since week one in DeSoto, playing against those guys to now, it’s been great to improve in each game.”

Going up against a team like DeSoto can be intimidating, especially when trying to break in at a new position. But Nieto said the experience from the 35-14 season-opening loss was a good lesson.

“Honestly, it was an awesome experience,” Nieto said. “I’m glad I got to go through that because it gave me a boost. I knew that if I can go against those guys, I can go against anyone in the state.”

Nieto and the rest of his teammates will be looking to continue their recent surge from last week’s 24-0 victory against Odessa High.

“It felt awesome,” Nieto said. “Seeing our hard work pay off and to get a shutout in a rivalry game was great. We hope to keep it going this week.”

The Panthers (3-3 overall, 1-0 in District 2-6A) will get another test when they host Amarillo Tascosa (5-1, 1-0) tonight at Ratliff Stadium.

Nieto and his teammates know what they’re up against as they face a Rebel squad that made a run to the state semifinals last year.

“I can’t wait,” Nieto said. “It’s going to be a physical game on both sides of the ball. As a unit, we’re ready to get at it.”

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