It has come full circle for Carolina Panthers cornerback Zack Sanchez, a former Keller Central standout, who returned to the school Saturday to host his first skills camp.
The day included a guest appearance by Dallas Cowboys rookie defensive end Charles Tapper, Sanchez’s teammate at Oklahoma. Tapper missed his entire first season with a back injury.
The 3-hour camp featured drills and coaching for about 50 local skill position players from 8th-12th grade. Sanchez enlisted the aid of another former Sooner, linebacker Eric Striker, and several former Keller Central football players to help run the camp.
After graduating from Keller Central in 2012, Sanchez had a decorated career cornerback for Oklahoma, culminating last year as a fifth-round draft pick of the Carolina Panthers. Sanchez is the first Central alum to be drafted into the NFL.
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After starting the 2016 season on Carolina’s practice squad, Sanchez played in five games, including one start, before his rookie season was cut short by a groin injury.
Sanchez’s impact as a two-way player – starting at receiver and cornerback – was evident as he earned all-state honors as a senior and led the young school to its first football playoff appearance.
Now Sanchez returns to be an example to current athletes.
“I want to see the young guys take the same route that I did,” Sanchez said at the camp’s conclusion. “I’ve walked the same locker room. I did it and so can you.”
Sanchez said the best advice he can impart to young players is rather basic.
“Compete,” he said. “When things go wrong, when you get beat, come back.”
It hits home with Sanchez, who remembers waiting until his junior year at Central to play varsity, then being redshirted at Oklahoma, and cut after training camp by the Panthers.
Keller Central head football coach Bart Helsley still uses Sanchez as a model for what can happen when talent meets determination.
“He is a great example for our kids here at Central and for us to point to,” said Helsley, Central’s coach since the school opened in 2003. “It takes more than athletic ability. It takes tremendous commitment.”
Sanchez hopes to host more football camps in the future, possibly as early as this summer.