Where Are They Now?: Nick Sanchez
There aren't too many people in this world who can honestly say that they love their job.
Work is work and one has to do whatever necessary to make ends meet, especially during these dark economic times, but occupational apathy has been a common theme in society since the first caveman rolled his wheelbarrow up the hill.
Former Stanford football player Nick Sanchez hopes that he will never have to wake up and dread going to work. He is focused on pursuing his first and only goal which is playing in the National Football League.
"There is no reason for me to give up on my dream right now," Sanchez passionately stated. "I am still young, I don't have a family I need to provide for and I can afford to bounce around if needed. If there isn't a reason to stop giving up on your dream, I think you have to do what makes you happy."
Sanchez's quest for NFL stardom began in the sugarcane plains of the Florida Heartland. He hails from the community of Belle Glade that has spawned NFL players such as Patriots running back Fred Taylor and Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes.
Coming off a prolific high school career during which he lettered as a three-sport athlete, Sanchez was courted by a plethora of mid-major football teams. The number of letters coming in from premier programs weren't as abundant, but West Virginia, Missouri and Stanford had offers on the table.
"I really wanted to play big-time football," admitted the six-foot, 195-pound Sanchez. "Stanford over the years had been a really good program, and it had the best mix of academics and athletics in the country. It seemed like the right place for me so I couldn't turn it down."
So Sanchez left the palm trees of Florida for Palm Drive on The Farm.
A bio from Sanchez's football days at Stanford described him as a "heady player". This label could probably carry over to most of the guys on the Cardinal roster because it isn't unusual for the Stanford student-athlete faction to possess brains as well as brawn, but "heady" might have been an understatement for Sanchez.
Sanchez was the valedictorian of his high school class, and he descends from a family lineage that boasts twelve members who have donned the same academic title, including his mom, dad and brother.
Even though Sanchez excelled in the classroom, he wasn't a player who played exclusively above the shoulder pads.
During his four seasons as a Cardinal, Sanchez served as a defensive stalwart at the cornerback position. In 42 games played and 24 starts, he compiled 153 tackles, seven interceptions (unfortunately not including the one that rightfully should have ended the game against I-AA UC Davis in 2005), 12 pass breakups, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
Sanchez enjoyed a superb sophomore season in which he solidified his role as a starting cornerback and ranked second on the team with 71 total tackles. He led the club with four interceptions his senior campaign which included a pair of picks in the Big Game win over Cal, one of which came with under two minutes left and sealed the victory.
"I loved my time at Stanford," reminisced Sanchez. "I made some of the best friends I will ever have, and I really enjoyed playing ball. It was a really good education and I am glad I obtained my degree."
Even though Sanchez wasn't selected in the 2008 NFL Draft, his talent and persistence eventually landed him an invitation to attend the latter stages of a professional training camp. He signed with the Oakland Raiders as an unrestricted free agent on August 13.
So at 23 years of age, Sanchez was running on the Raiders scout team and preparing for preseason games. He suited up for three contests against the Titans, Cardinals and Seahawks, and has 6.0 tackles notched on his NFL resume to show for it.
Sanchez was eventually released in the final roster cut on August 30 and like many training camp hopefuls, the team told him it was a numbers thing. Sanchez personally received a phone call from Raiders defensive coordinator Rob Ryan who said that he had wanted to keep him on the team but ultimately it was the head coach's decision.
"I was really proud with the way I played and it was really good for my confidence," Sanchez said of the experience. "I definitely know now that I could play in that league."
The experience of playing and learning alongside one of the best corners in the NFL in former Cal star Nnamdi Asomugha was invaluable. Sanchez also mentioned that veteran corner DeAngelo Hall, now with the Washington Redskins, was eager to pass on a few tricks of the trade.
"I definitely learned a lot of stuff from those guys, and they were really cool guys who tried to help me out," Sanchez said. "It's a really cool experience to play with players of that talent. I got a chance that a lot of guys don't get and I am thankful for that."
Being cut from an NFL team is the barrier in the road that forces many players to turn around and give up. They come to accept the fate that the child is grown, the dream is gone.
But Sanchez wasn't ready to quit chasing his passion so he entered the realm of arena football.
Arena football is played indoors on an abbreviated, 50-yard field. It's a niche sport that has existed for 23 years with game scores typically falling in the 50s to 60s range - for each team. Some liken arena football to minor league baseball because games are filled with lights, smoke, booms and bangs, and take on more of a production feel for the family rather than a sporting event.
But just because the indoor game has gimmicks galore, doesn't mean the athletes on the field aren't talented football players. They do get paid to play which automatically qualifies them as "professional", and many emerged from top-tier collegiate programs where they played in bowl games and won national championships.
The Bay Area possesses one of the Arena Football League's only dynasties. The San Jose SaberCats have won three ArenaBowl championships (the Super Bowl of indoor football), have captured seven Western Division titles, can claim nine consecutive playoffs berths and own the league's best regular season record during this decade.
"The SaberCats called and said they liked my game a lot, and wanted me to come and work out with the team," stated Sanchez.
The organization brings in football players every offseason to its facility in Sunnyvale to work out with some returning players. During this period the players are given an opportunity to impress the coaching staff and make the team.
Sanchez felt that he had a good showing with the SaberCats.
"We would have invited Nick to camp this year," confirmed Terry Malley who was the team's offensive coordinator but is now the quarterbacks coach for San Jose State. "He spent a lot of time working with us this offseason and he really is a quality person and player."
Malley spoke in past tense because the Arena Football League suspended operations for the 2009 season which consequently shut the SaberCats franchise and the league down. The suspension left players, coaches and front office personnel from 17 teams around the country unemployed, and also left Sanchez without a place to play.
"So I still wanted to play ball, and wasn't exactly sure what my options were. Then a couple of af2 teams were calling me. I knew it wasn't as good as the AFL, but I didn't have a job or place to live and I was bored so I thought at least it will provide me with these things."
The Arena Football 2 League ["af2"] exists as a feeder and developmental system to the AFL. Even though it is a step down from the AFL, the af2 still provides players with an opportunity. And now coupled with the fact that the AFL has taken a season sabbatical, the af2 has become the premier platform for playing arena football.
"Coach Biletnikoff called me from Central Valley and said they were interested in having me play for them," said Sanchez. "I figured with his name he might be a good connection to have."
Fred Biletnikoff Jr. is the Central Valley Coyotes head coach and son of Hall of Fame Oakland Raiders wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff. His father enjoyed a storied NFL legacy as a player and coach so his son could have some connections that might lead back to an avenue to the pros for Sanchez.
The Central Valley Coyotes are based in Fresno and are one of 25 small-market af2 teams. Sanchez earned a spot on the roster last Thursday and the Coyotes will begin their 16-game regular season this Friday, March 20.
Sanchez will be lacing it up with some other Pac-10 players including guys from Oregon, USC and Washington State. The Coyotes will play teams like the Boise Burn, Stockton Lightning, Spokane Shock and Arkansas Twisters just to name a few.
It is common knowledge that the transition for the outdoor game to arena football can present a steep learning curve. The indoor game was altered to produce more action; the spacing is more confined, the plays occur at a quicker pace and a pass is thrown nine out of every 10 offensive plays.
"It's still football, the same skills mostly translate, but it's a much different game," Sanchez stated. "Little techniques are different, there are different route combinations and they have that motion guy coming at you. The good thing for me is that I was exposed to the game before I got to (Central Valley) so I was ahead of the game compared to most of my teammates."
Sanchez feels that he can adapt quickly to any type of football scheme or format. He points out that he had four different defensive coordinators, a fresh one every year at Stanford and had to learn a new defense each season.
"All the rules in this league are catered to the offense so they are going to make some plays. But as a DB you really get to show your skills because if you can shut down a receiver in this game, you can clearly play and people will take notice of that."
And Sanchez is correct because history indicates people have taken notice.
Former SaberCats defensive back Marquis Floyd began his professional football career in the ranks of the af2. He played for the Rio Grande Valley Dorados in 2005 and eventually made his way into the AFL. After three illustrious seasons with the SaberCats, Floyd was invited to attend training camp with the Seattle Seahawks and eventually earned a spot on the roster.
"Everybody in the af2 is looking forward to moving up," said Floyd. "It is a developmental league and is a league that gives you an opportunity. You really can't make a living off playing in the af2, but basically you have the opportunity to move forward in your pro career."
Along with Floyd, quarterback Kurt Warner (Cardinals), kicker Rob Bironas (Titans), wide receiver Rashied Davis (Bears) and defensive lineman Greg White (Buccaneers) are other current NFL players whose professional careers sprouted through arena football.
There is no question that getting an opportunity like the aforementioned players did depends heavily on timing, injuries and transactions. But when the opportunity does present itself, one has to be prepared and Sanchez has done just that.
"If I was still (in the Bay Area) I would just be lifting and working out at Stanford, but now I'm going to practice and playing football everyday. Whether the AFL comes back or I get another shot at the NFL, I will have been honing my skills.
"The Raiders actually called me after their season was over and told me they were still interested and were thinking about bringing me back for camp again. So it is good for me to still be in football shape in case I get an opportunity like that."
If that break does come and he succeeds, Sanchez will be joining former Cardinal teammates and current NFL players such as O.J. Atogwe (Rams), Greg Camarillo (Dolphins), Alex Smith (Buccaneers), Mark Bradford (49ers) and Trent Edwards (Bills).
And if the contingency plan Sanchez has laid out fizzles in the future, what then?
"I want to play ball as long as I can do it, but eventually I will have to get a different job," affirmed Sanchez, who graduated with a degree in Communications. "I would like to stay involved in sports and have thought about coaching a lot."
In the meantime however, Sanchez isn't even flirting with the idea of life without football. "I am the kind of guy that thinks if you want to be successful you have to put all your energy into what you are doing."
In the personal section of his football bio it states that the best advice Sanchez ever received was never to settle. It also says that if Sanchez could give any type of advice to young kids it would be to never give up on your dreams.
Sanchez definitely has the talent, confidence and aspiration to reach his goal, and it doesn't look like he will ever settle on relinquishing his dream.
"If there is something you want to do and it's possible, never let anybody tell you can't do it because all you have to do is get a chance."
For now, Nick Sanchez will be living the dream that most young men eventually give up on. For now, Nick Sanchez can claim without a doubt that he loves his profession.
About the Author: Scott Cooley is a seasoned sports writer who was groomed as a reporter for ESPN.com, and he most recently served as the media relations manager for the San Jose SaberCats arena football team. He earned a Business and Economics degree from Hendrix College where he also played baseball. Cooley has a passion for producing sports content, and his writing evokes thought into the minds of his readers with a witty and entertaining style. He is a freelance writer who has been published on multiple media platforms and is always looking for additional opportunities. Cooley and his wife, Christina, reside in Palo Alto where she is pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry at Stanford. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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