St. Francis Defender Cracks Running Backs and Schoolbooks

St. Francis High is a college prep school that enforces stringent academic demands on its students. You won't find any of its junior or senior athletes majoring in physical education, Greek mythology or ancient Aztec culture.

The grade-point average--for all students--is based on such literate topics as sciences and languages, generally regarded as taboo in high school locker rooms from Maine to Malibu. In fact, all St. Francis aspirants must pass an entrance exam just to get into the lobby.

Which brings us to Anton Nistl, a defensive back for Coach Terry Terrazone's Golden Knights who has been able to juggle schoolbooks and playbooks.

"Anton is just one of those unique kids . . . that can compete in both areas," Terrazone said. "He has the ability to convert his intensity from the athletic field to the classroom."

Left Eagle Rock

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior quit Eagle Rock High after his freshman year because it dropped soccer and because his parents preferred the curriculum at St. Francis.

Nistl was born to parents of German and Austrian descent, and the soccer influence was strong. His father played in Austria and plays today for an old-timers team in Arcadia. Anton started playing at age 8 and became a goalie at 12 when he joined a club team in Huntington Beach. He tended goal for St. Francis as a sophomore and led Coach Cherif Zein's squad to the Southern Section playoffs as a junior.

When he arrived at St. Francis, Nistl's father told Coach Terrazone that his son wasn't going to play football until he got settled into the school academically. That spring, people around the school kept raving about the young soccer player to Terrazone, who finally got a look for himself prior to the 1983 football season.

"When we saw him in the spring, he looked good and he certainly had the athletic ability," Terrazone said. "You could see that just by watching him run. He lived up to every advance billing."

The Golden Knights tried him at safety. He had never played the position but quickly learned it and improved each week. Against Pasadena High in the second game of the 1983 season, he made an interception that turned the game around.

"Once he sets a goal, he seems to be able to accomplish it," Terrazone observed. "He's very mature, emotionally, for a high school athlete. He doesn't allow adversity to upset him. He really comes back after you with a renewed intensity."

At the end of the '83 season the Golden Knights visited Huntington Beach for a Big 5 Conference playoff game, which was a homecoming of sorts for Nistl because of his soccer exploits. He recovered a fumble, forced two others and had a number of key tackles as St. Francis won, 24-21. The Golden Knights stopped Huntington Beach four times during a goal-line stand as Nistl twice shot the gap with the ball on the 1-yard line and twice stopped tailback Danny Thompson, who now plays for UCLA.

"I chased him down quite a bit that day," he added with a grin.

Terrazone, who has coached football at St. Francis for 13 years and was a student there from 1962 through 1965, says Nistl--who led the 6-5 Golden Knights with 24 solo tackles in 1984--is as good as anybody who's played football for the school, including Jay Champlain and Todd Short, former all-CIF Southern Section defensive backs. The coach describes Nistl as an intense, physical player with speed who is a powerful hitter on defense and breaks tackles well on offense.

"Most of his receptions are in 10-yard passes, which he turns into 20-yard gains," Terrazone said.

Nistl's accolades this past season included unanimous selection as all-league defensive back plus selection as all-area kicker and defensive back. He was included on the Times' All-Glendale team. Terrazone predicts that Nistl will be named a National Football Foundation scholar athlete.

Nistl--a successful place-kicker and the team's leading receiver last season with 13 catches for 266 yards and a pair of touchdowns--has been recruited by a number of colleges. The strongest candidates so far seem to be Brigham Young, Rice and Nevada-Las Vegas.

It's His Decision

Nistl's parents and coach are not interfering, just providing him with a sounding board. He is wrestling with the final decision alone. Each is attractive to him for various reasons. UNLV wants him to stop the run, which is the strongest element of his game. Rice represents an opportunity to start right away. BYU is the glamour school because of its undefeated football team.

Brigham Young has flown him to Provo, Utah, to visit the campus.

"At BYU, the coaches are recruiting me as a free safety," he said, "because they wanted to know if I want to cover the corner from sideline to sideline. That's how I covered the pass here. UNLV is looking for a safety who can play the run.

"Rice has just put money into its program and they're just starting to get things going. I won't know how it is until I visit. They're talking about having me play roving linebacker or strong safety. That's the Southwest Conference, and that's the run; so I might fit in better down there."

Nistl is confident of fitting in wherever he goes. Those feelings began at age 6, when he first picked up a football, and continued through his soccer and basketball experiences.

"Ever since I've been playing sports, I've always found a way to play," he said. "I'm not the greatest basketball player, but whenever I played on basketball teams in park leagues, I always found a position to play. (Rice) talked about red-shirting me. I said, 'Hey, I'll play special teams.' I'll find a way to play. If it doesn't happen, I've got the next year."

Nistl plans to major in business. Although he is studying the football pros and cons of BYU, Rice and UNLV carefully, his concerns regarding curriculum are equally critical and he feels that BYU offers the best education of the three.

"I don't think he'd go somewhere if it didn't have something to offer him academically as well as athletically," Terrazone said.

Nistl, who is gleefully anticipating playing big-time college football, added: "There's always the hope that you'll go further in football, but you've got to get an education."

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