James Sanchez had everything worked out.
He would play football at Gavilan College for two years, then move to Santa Barbara. But that was before a strong 2013 freshman season in which the burly 5-foot-10, 200-pound inside linebacker consistently made the plays his coaches relied on him to execute.
For his efforts, Sanchez was basically awarded a scholarship to play at MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, a city of 130,045 in Kansas. Although NAIA programs can’t offer official athletic scholarships, they can help pay for a student-athlete’s tuition through scholarship funding.
Sanchez received a generous package, an offer he simply couldn’t pass up. Sanchez, who signed his official letter of intent at Gavilan on Monday, averaged 7.2 tackles per game—third best on the team—can hardly believe he’ll be spending his next three years in the Midwest, but he’s never been more excited about his future.
“I had never heard of MidAmerica Nazarene or Olathe before this, but I’m pretty pumped about it,” said Sanchez, who attended San Benito High and played football in the 2010 season before graduating from San Andreas Continuation High in 2012. “I told myself that even if I get only one offer while playing at Gavilan, no matter where it is, I’m going to take it.”
Sanchez transfers with three years of athletic eligibility, which isn’t a rare case.
“It all depends on an individual’s situation,” Gavilan coach Spencer Gilford said. “Sometimes it makes more sense for an individual to move on after one year. It made more sense for James to move on now. That’s what we’re about—helping everyone achieve their goals.”
Indeed, Sanchez expressed gratitude to Gilford for sending a highlight video to MidAmerica and helping him get noticed. The junior college athletics scene is a fertile ground for discovering talent, and Sanchez is the classic example of how far an athlete can go through sheer will and determination.
Sanchez needed those characteristics in abundance after enduring plenty of family turmoil growing up. Sanchez, who was born and raised in Sumner, Wash., moved to Hollister in August of 2009.
Because of state transfer rules and the fact that Sanchez couldn’t get all of his credits to transfer over from Sumner High, he only played one year at San Benito, in 2010. A year behind academically due to the transfer, Sanchez said he was forced to finish out his schooling at San Andreas.
Wanting to live with his mom, Sanchez moved back to Washington shortly after graduating. But due to unforeseen circumstances, he was back in Hollister six months later, in December 2012, and signed up to take classes and play football at Gavilan.
Sanchez, who played running back in high school, attended spring ball and was set to compete for the starting position until a month before the 2013 season started. That’s when Gilford told Sanchez he was being moved to linebacker, which left Sanchez dazed and confused.
“I actually asked them if I could switch positions earlier, and they said no,” Sanchez said. “So after the initial shock, I was OK with it. I ended up starting the first game and played every game except the last (due to injury).”
Said Gilford: “James is a tough kid, and he’s always displayed that toughness in everything he’s done. I just felt we needed that toughness on the defensive side of the ball.“
Despite having never played linebacker at any level—youth or in high school—Sanchez excelled at the position, often producing big hits while making all of the fundamental plays.
“James had a smooth transition because going from running back to linebacker is not a huge difference to me,” Gilford said. “You’re running the same path and diagnosing the play, and that’s what James’ strengths are. He was able to diagnose what the offensive play was and meet the (running) back to make the tackle.”
When Sanchez received the initial offer through a text to play at MidAmerica, he was in a state of disbelief. After all, he had only played one year at Gavilan, and he was receiving a text from Joe Hall, who is MidAmerica’s running backs coach.
“I didn’t get too excited at first because I didn’t think you could transfer after one year,” Sanchez said. “When everything got explained to me and all the paperwork got done, that’s when I realized all of my hard work was about to pay off. This turned out to be one of the best surprises of my life.”
James Sanchez had everything worked out.