Get Diego Zavala to talk about his roots, and he’ll mention he’s from Houston.
But that’s not altogether true.
He actually graduated from Nimitz High School in Aldine, which is a suburb to Houston. When the difference was mentioned to him in conversation this week, the excitement in his voice gushed forward.
“You know about Aldine? Wow, I haven’t been able to talk about the Aldine district with anyone in 10 years,” he said. “It’s easier to just say Houston because everyone knows Houston.”
Zavala then boasted of a familiar Nimitz face to most sports fans — former Baylor basketball sensation Brittney Griner, now in the WNBA.
“Brittney was a senior when I was a freshman,” he noted. “I think she could have been an outstanding goalkeeper but she’s doing pretty good where she’s at.”
His enthusiasm for someone recognizing his true roots rivals that of his enthusiasm for his new job — head boys soccer coach at Muskogee High. He was hired this week, albeit replacing a guy who got him back on staff — Tim VanEtten, let go after two seasons.
“Coach Van reached out and brought me back and took care of me and I learned a lot from him,” Zavala said. “I’m grateful for him and he wished me well when he heard I got the job. He had said he hoped I would get the position and I have nothing but respect for him.”
Zavala, who has taught in the district since graduating from Bacone in 2017, served a stint under former MHS coach Ty Pilgrim. Zavala, 27, was part of a playoff team at Bacone, serving as vice captain as a junior and captain as a senior.
“This is what I’ve been doing since I was 6,” Zavala said. “This is my passion, this is s dream come true for me and I absolutely mean that.”
One endorsement of the hire comes from Fort Gibson’s Todd Friend. Friend, who left Muskogee for Fort Gibson after the 2011 season, was enthusiastic when hearing about the hire.
“Diego is a great Christian young man. Looking forward to seeing what he can accomplish with some consistency over there,” Friend said.
“He has a spark that can help that program. He will need to build the culture, structure and discipline and he will be successful.”
Zavala was appreciative of that from a guy he came to know through the West Side Alliance soccer club organization.
“I’ve been coaching in WSA learning from people like Todd and Pedro Colina (former Mexico professional and current coaching with the Oklahoma Arsenal team in WSA) and working with them and Miguel Colina (also a WSA club coach and on staff at Muskogee). These are people who have brought and promoted soccer to this community,” he said.
“I got a call from Todd right after the news broke about me being hired and he wants to sit down with me and talk about how he can help me in whatever way he can. I’m tremendously excited about that. These are people I really like and have a lot of respect for.”
Muskogee this past season was 4-9, winning three straight games early in the year to capture first place in the Sapulpa tournament. The Roughers had a tough stretch with some injuries and near-wins that had them locked in a losing streak until winning their first district game in the season finale against Owasso — a loss that helped knock the Rams out of title contention.
“We had stretches where we had chances to bury teams and we didn’t, but we finished strong against Owasso and ended things on a positive note,” he said.
Anyone seeing him on the sideline that night against Owasso saw the energy he has. And with just three senior starters graduating, that energy isn’t going anywhere.
“I’m excited for the incoming freshmen and the guys we have returning,” Zavala said. “The class that I got now I had in the seventh and eighth grade so I’ve been following them since then.
“I’m excited to be the guy now who can really lead them. I’m going to bring a positive attitude. I’m going to build more rapport with them, bring more intensity to training sessions, holding them accountable and make sure they have discipline.”