When Central made the football playoffs for the first time, Zack Sanchez was a pivotal reason. Along with players such as Simon Goines and the emerging talent of quarterback Tanner Tausch, Sanchez was a standout on both sides of the ball for the Chargers.
The 2012 Central alum was all-district and named to many other all-everything lists.
In his senior season, Sanchez had nine interceptions and caught 45 passes for just under 1,000 yards. His touchdown total included 13 receiving scores and two pick-6’s.
After making an early initial verbal commitment to Baylor, Sanchez jumped at the chance to head north when Oklahoma came calling.
He became the starter in his redshirt-freshman year initially as a result of an injury to the first-teamer. He continued to be used as the starting corner due to his ability to produce.
Being on the opposite side of veteran cornerback Aaron Colvin at OU, it was a forgone conclusion opposing quarterbacks were going to pick on Sanchez.
Now Sanchez is looking to build on his thrown-into-the-fire experience and help the team nab a playoff spot and a chance for a national title.
The season worked out well, as Sanchez received Freshman All-American honors and was recently included on the preseason Jim Thorpe Award and Bronko Nagurski watch lists. He started all 13 games and had 46 tackles and two interceptions, which helped secure wins in pivotal games against Kansas State and in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama.
But the disappointment of being redshirted almost caused him to leave the program.
“It was frustrating and a humbling experience,” Sanchez said. “I was mad and upset and thought about leaving, but it was ultimately the best decision. I put in the hard work to get to where I am today. It was the best thing for me.”
Sanchez said the transition from high school star to playing at a national power was a big step.
“Playing against some of the toughest talent in the state prepared me for getting here,” Sanchez said during a phone interview from Norman. “It’s tough for anybody to make that leap. There are elite athletes everywhere,” he said of the arrival at OU.
Playing against some of the top talent in North Texas provided a bit of familiarity for Sanchez.
Against Texas Tech, Sanchez was once more defending passes thrown by former Keller quarterback, Davis Webb.
“It was kind of funny to see him again,” Sanchez said. “We played when he was a junior,” he said, prior to Webb moving to Prosper. “It was fun to play against him and beat him again like we did in high school,” Sanchez joked.
Other matchups Sanchez would relish again is possibly facing former Carroll quarterback Kenny Hill, now a potential starter at Texas A&M, or former Denton Guyer quarterback Jerrod Heard, now at Texas.
He’s come a long way since high school, though, Sanchez admitted.
“It’s like night and day,” he said. “I feel like if I’d known just a little bit of what I know now, I’d be a lot better player,” Sanchez said of learning more technique.
During his redshirt season, Sanchez honed his skills by playing on the scout team, going against quarterback Landry Jones, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and current New Orleans Saints receiver Kenny Stills.
Other elements are also a lot different now than when he wore the Chargers uniform. Sanchez played at 160 pounds and is now up to 5-11 and 185.
“The Lord blessed me with some speed and now I’m faster and more explosive,” he said.
Another transition for Sanchez is more trivial but meaningful.
At Central, Sanchez wore number 3. In his redshirt year he was issued 26. Then, when he had the opportunity to request a jersey number last year, he chose number 15.
“It means a lot more to me,” he said, noting it was the number worn by a close friend and former Central running back, Kevin Washington, who died before his freshman year at OU.
The biggest asset he’s worked to achieve is gaining confidence.
“Getting confidence is the biggest thing,” he said. “Getting ready to play for 85,000 fans and getting beat and being down and coming back to making plays takes confidence.”
Coming back to Central during the spring game afforded Sanchez time to reflect, too.
“I could relive it a bit,” he said. “It’s crazy how things have changed. It’s a whole different place. It seems like it was 10 years ago. It’s cool to be in the other person’s shoes,” he said of being able to speak with the current players and talking about achieving goals.