Youth Football: Gilroy girl is one tough tackler

Daniella Sanchez tries to shake off a tackle while carrying the ball for the Tri-County Rebels during a game this season.

GILROY—Daniella Sanchez is a bright, bubbly, athletic 8-year-old. But behind her big brown eyes and sweet smile is a girl who likes to hit—and she’s good at it, too.
Sanchez is the only girl on the Tri-County Rebels Junior Pee Wee team. That hasn’t stopped her from leading the squad in tackles. The speedy Sanchez also plays running back, but said she prefers her role as linebacker.
“That’s my favorite because I always like tackling,” Sanchez said while intently watching a Cougar varsity practice last week. “I like getting the fumbles, too. I’m used to tackling and I love tackling.”
The daughter of Christopher High offensive line coach Fernando Sanchez, Daniella has grown up immersed in the sport. She said some of her earliest memories involve standing on the sidelines at Gilroy High School.
“When I was 3 or 4, my dad would always bring me (to practice),” the Las Animas third-grader said. “…He would always bring me on the field and I would always help him out; I grew up in that.”
Daniella is still her dad’s sidekick on the sidelines. At practices or after a Cougars’ game, Fernando said she will often comment on how a player missed his tackle or that they need to do a better job wrapping someone up. She was constantly by her dad’s side as he readied Christopher for its match-up with Palma last week and as the players walked off the field, she gave them each supportive pats on their shoulder pads—which they gladly crouched down to accept.
Daniella got her start playing flag football and was hooked right away. Though she enjoyed playing flag, she yearned for contact football. After finishing off her flag career, she finally got the green light from her dad to play contact this year and she’s loved every minute of it.
When she first joined the Rebels, there were two other girls on the team but they had to move up to a higher weight class. Even though it’s a different dynamic, Daniella said it’s fun to play with the boys and that her ferocious reputation has left some of her opponents shaking in their shoulder pads.“The center always asks if I’m a boy or a girl and I always say I’m a girl. They always freak out and they’re afraid of me,” Daniella said while smiling ear-to-ear. “I don’t get scared; it’s just part of the game.”
Daniella may be fearless on the field, but the feeling isn’t mutual for her parents. Fernando said he was apprehensive to let her play contact out of fear she’d get hurt but after hearing Daniella’s pleas, he finally agreed.
“I do get nervous for her just knowing the game can get very physical at times,” he said. “There’s been times when she’s been shaken up and she’s slow to get up…but she gets up every time.”
What was most surprising, Fernando said, was his daughter’s devotion to preparing for the season. She trained for an hour a day, three days a week during the summer and woke up early to do so. Each night before she went bed, Fernando said Daniella meticulously ensured all her gear was ready for the next day’s training session.
And it all paid off.
Sunday marked the Rebels’ final home game of the season and Daniella helped her team close it out with a bang. Tri-County trailed 6-0 late in the fourth when she forced and recovered a fumble, which her team turned into a touchdown to win 7-6.
“It was great seeing her out there in the heat of the battle with all her teammates,” Fernando said. “It was neat to see her there and contributing on defense…No matter where the ball’s at, she’s always making a tackle or near it.”
During that game, Daniella honored the wife of Christopher head coach Tim Pierleoni, Jennifer, who is currently battling breast cancer. She decked herself out with pink sweatbands and socks in her honor. Daniella also wore a custom t-shirt which read “Fight like a girl” on the front and “This fight’s for Jennifer Pierleoni” while working as ball girl during Christopher’s match-up with Palma on Oct. 2.
Daniella knows she won’t be able to play football forever. As the game gets quicker and the boys get bigger, the feisty footballer will eventually hang up her cleats. When the time comes, the multi-sport athlete said she’d return to playing softball, soccer and basketball and hopes to play field hockey once she hits high school. Until then, Daniella is going to enjoy even minute she gets out on the gridiron.
“What keeps me playing is all my family supporting me. I just worry about what I have to do on the field and don’t worry about the stands,” she said. “I want to play forever.”
“It’s cool see her out there,” Fernando added, “but she’s still daddy’s little girl.”