COVINGTON, Ga. — Nyland Green’s biggest adjustment from playing cornerback instead of wide receiver has probably come in the department of developing a short memory.
That’s what any cornerback or defensive back worth his salt will tell you, anyway.
When you get burned on a play — and all DBs will at some point in their career — you can’t hold on to it. You’ve got to shrug it off and prepare for the next snap where you may get picked on again, especially if you got beat previously.
Now Green, a 6-foot-3, 175-pound sophomore wideout-turned-corner at Newton, doesn’t have to treat that statement as hear-say. He has personal experience.
“Getting beat happens sometimes, but you just learn from it and get over it and move on to the next play,” Green said.
On one particular play in practice earlier in the season, Green failed to cover a deep route that turned into a long completion. This happened several other times in live game action against Eastside and Arabia Mountain.
But breakthrough moments soon came, and they did so in bunches.
Green recorded a fumble recovery against Arabia Mountain where he scooped up the ball and almost scored.
Then two weeks later against Westlake, Green would nab his first pick, returning it 51 yards to set his teammate Robert Lewis up for a 6-yard touchdown reception on the very next play. The very next week against South Gwinnett, Green out-jumped the Comets’ wide receiver and used his ball skills to snag in the interception which helped swing momentum in a close first half.
“On that play, I just kind of turned back into wide receiver mode and just went up and got the ball,” Green said.
Those were the kinds of flashes that made Skelton feel justified in moving Green to defensive back to give him an opportunity to see the field more immediately as a sophomore varsity player.
“We knew that with his athleticism, we had to get him on the field some kind of way,” said Newton defensive backs coach, Josh Skelton.
If you saw Green as a freshman, he may have looked like the next great wide receiver to come through the ranks at Newton, following behind the likes of guys like Georgia’s JJ Holloman. And being as young as Green is, it still might happen.
But an injury to his collarbone between his freshman and sophomore seasons flipped the script a little bit.
“He was out there making plays that made you know he was going to be able to dominate on the 7A varsity level when he got that chance,” Skelton said. “But because of his injury, his first time in pads with us was really in the Eastside game.”
Skelton said Green pretty much missed the entire spring and most of summer and fall workouts while trying to get his shoulder back to optimal health.
And because of that, Skelton and the Rams’ coaching staff felt like that lack of work would’ve caused him to fall behind an already crowded receivers room with the likes of UT-Chattanooga commit Michael Mathison and speedster juniors Lewis and Jerrol Hines.
So in essence, Green went from starring on Newton’s freshman team and paving out a bright, early future for himself as a wideout — while showing off ball skills that seemed to bely his then-14-year old self — to trying to play catch-up while learning a whole new skill set on the opposite side of the ball.
But Green’s talent is such that Skelton said he couldn’t fathom any situation to justify keeping him off the field for his sophomore season. And even if he could, Green probably wouldn’t have wanted to hear it. So when the notion of putting Green at corner came up, both Skelton and Green were a-okay with the idea and the challenges that would come with it.
“I just wanted to do whatever I could to get on the field and make plays for my team and my teammates,” Green said. “I knew it would be different, but I also knew that being a receiver, I felt like I could bring that side of the game to what I do on defense. So I just tried to do whatever the coaches told me to be successful.”
Skelton couldn’t be more pleased with his new, young corner in that department.
“The thing that makes Nyland so great is the fact that he’s just a kid that works hard, listens very, very well and is just super coachable,” Skelton said. “Before this year, he’d never played defensive back. He was the best wide receiver on the freshman team last year, but instead of complaining or being mad that he wasn’t getting time at his natural position, he just did everything he could do to close the learning gap and put himself in position to be successful on defense."
And successful is not an overstatement.
Green’s got 19 tackles, two interceptions, a fumble recovery and six pass breakups through three games, heading into Friday’s Region 8-AAAAAAA contest with No. 4 Grayson. His work and his potential has turned heads of Power Five conference recruiters, particular Rutgers of the Big 10 which presented scholarship offers to both Green and Lewis Wednesday.
And although both Green and Skelton want him playing both sides of the ball next season, Skelton makes no bones about which position he feels holds the greatest possibilities for Green’s furtherance as a football player.
“What I’ve tried to sell him on is this,” Skelton says. “I tell him, ‘at 6-foot-3, you’re a normal, average sized player at the wide receiver position. There’s nothing spectacular about your height as a wide receiver.’ But, I’ve told him, if I put you in a defensive back lineup, with your height and size, you’re the equivalent of a 7-foot-1 basketball player. You’re a giant. That’s the kind of size college scouts are drooling over for corners at the next level. Nyland already fits the prototype, size wise, and he’s just going to keep getting better with experience.
“Nyland is still growing. We all know the trends of long corners. They’re intimidating and harder to go over top on. When you talk to SEC scouts, they’re looking at guys 6-foot-1 or taller to play that corner position. There’s no reason he can’t be a Power Five kid in a couple of years.”
As for Green’s buy-in to what his position coach is selling, he’s still able to healthily balance between his ideal desires and what’s not only best for his future, but for his team’s present progress.
“I’m definitely grateful for the success I’ve been able to have so far,” Green said. “I do still want to be able to play receiver, but I also know that I have the ability to play defense as well. A lot of the ball skills are the same. And as a receiver, I can kind of know what other receivers are thinking when I defend them. I’m just glad to be able to play and contribute to my team.”