Scout Team To Leading Tackler: Noah Guzman’s Quick Rise At WVU
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Five months ago, Noah Guzman had no idea he’d be playing at West Virginia. In fact, he didn’t have an idea that he’d be playing anywhere on the Division I level.
Following a distinguished high school career at Bishop Amat High School in La Puente, California, the 6-foot, 205-pound athlete wasn’t getting the recruiting attention that he believed he deserved. So, despite being fully qualified, he decided to attend junior college in 2018 in order to build his resume. He also made another major change to help boost his profile.
“In high school I played receiver, and I think maybe I was overlooked, so the best thing for me was to move over and play defense,” he said, perhaps not recognizing just how big a gamble it was to start over at a different position. “So, at junior college it was my first year playing there.”
Just as he did at wide receive in high school, Guzman excelled in college, this time earning all league and all-state honors. Still, though, the attention didn’t come — at least from the level at which he wanted to play.
“My mind was always set on the Power 5. I just set my mind on getting there,” he said of his approach at Cerritos. “But it was getting late (in the recruiting process) so I figured I was going to have to go back to juco for another year.”
At that point, a convergence of need occurred. West Virginia, searching for safety help after the dismissal and departure of secondary players, found him over the summer, with juco recruiting ace Blake Seiler digging out his name and tape. A couple of phone calls, a campus visit and Guzman committed to the Mountaineers in late June. Just more than a month later, he was suiting up on a Power 5 practice field, just as he had hoped.
That step completed, albeit just in time for the 2019 season, Guzman then set his sights on making an impact. Getting on the field as a newcomer is tough enough, even for a player with a year of junior college experience under his belt. His late arrival meant he didn’t have a whole lot of acclimation time, and he also had just one season of serious play as a defensive back. However, he stuck to a basic approach that had served him well at Cerritos.
“I haven’t really changed much of what I did coming in. I just keep working hard and trying to prove myself each and every day. I just had faith in myself and trusted the climb, moving up from the scout team to getting on some special teams,” he said.
Guzman’s climb included making the travel roster for the team’s first road game at Missouri, where he played some special teams snaps. He did not play in the next two contests against N.C. State or Kansas, and appeared destined for a redshirt. However, injuries, along with a tactical changeup that fit right into his wheelhouse, removed that status quickly. He played against Texas and Iowa State, then got more action on regular defensive snaps against Oklahoma. More injuries on defense, especially at linebacker, cropped up, prompting the defensive staff to implement a three-high safety look against Baylor, with Guzman manning what the WVU coaches call the rover. That put the Mountaineers in what amounts to a 3-2-6 alignment, with the rover, like the spear safety, holding multiple, hybrid responsibilities in both pass and run coverage.
For Guzman, who thrives on contact and relishes the physical aspect of play, it was an immediate match.
“There are some differences between rover and safety where I was playing before, but I didn’t have any trouble picking it up,” said Guzman, again displaying an aptitude for assimilating coaching and learning a new position quickly. “I know what I am doing, and I am getting comfortable there. I’m playing in the middle of the field, and I can get to the ball. I like hitting and flying around and getting physical. I like it because it’s free roaming. You get to see everything happening and you try to react.”
Guzman played the position as if he was born to it, racking up 12 tackles to lead the team as the Mountaineers narrowly missed upsetting the Bears.
“It’s kind of set up for the rover to make plays,” Guzman said of the design of the defense, which is spreading throughout the ranks of college football. “You are in the the middle of the field, and you can get downhill and get to the ball.”
West Virginia didn’t play the three-safety look quite as much against Texas Tech, but Guzman was still involved, recording five stops, including his first tackle for loss in a Mountaineer uniform. Whatever the assignments to come, he’s likely to be front and center for the action with his physical nature making him a candidate for any of WVU’s safety spots.
“That physical play comes from my dad and older brother,” said Guzman. “Both of them played football. My brother (Nathan) played at UNLV, and my dad (George) played at Eastern Michigan.”
Like many of the lessons he has been exposed to, Guzman assimilated that one well. It lies at the heart of his approach to the game.
“I know I have to work twice as hard to get back on the field,” he said. “I have proved I belong and that I can play here, but I do know I have to get better.”