Posted: September 16, 2009
Jesse Sanchez’s love for sports began at a young age. His father, Eladio, played professional baseball at the Triple-A level and passed not only his athletic ability down to his son, but also his passion for competition. “My dad’s been the driving force behind me my entire life; he’s always trying to make me better, always looking for ways to help me improve,” Sanchez says. “I tried any sport I could growing up, fencing, gymnastics, I rode dirt bikes, you name it.”
Of all the sports Sanchez played as a youngster, nothing captured his attention quite like the game of football. A full back and linebacker on the pee-wee level, Sanchez actually sat out his freshman year of high school ball. “There was an equipment issue,” he says with a half-smile. “There weren’t enough helmets at the start of the season so I wound up not playing that year.”
After not playing that first year at Bergen Tech in New Jersey, Sanchez was thrust into the lineup as a sophomore when his coaches asked if he would be interested in playing quarterback. He jumped at the opportunity. “I have a pretty good arm and I wanted to be out there playing so I gave it a shot.”
While he certainly enjoyed dropping back to throw the ball, nothing got Sanchez going quite like lowering his shoulder and steamrolling through a would-be-tackler. After a strong career on the gridiron, Sanchez’s coach Vito Campanille began working diligently to find his star pupil a place to play on the next level. “I didn’t know too much about the recruiting process,” Sanchez admits. “I came to Lehigh for a visit and after Coach Coen got the head coaching job, I decided this was the place for me.”
Sanchez admits the system he ran in high school was nowhere near as complex as the Lehigh offense. “It was much different than what I was used to,” he explains. “The first preseason camp is always the toughest because you’re trying to learn the system as well as adjust to college life.” Sanchez stuck with it though, absorbing as much knowledge as he could and using his athletic ability to earn time on special teams.
Once the Mountain Hawks’ coaching staff saw the type of athleticism and physical skills he possessed, they decided to move Sanchez to the defensive side of the ball during the spring of his freshman year. “My first reaction was it’s a chance for me to play sooner,” Sanchez explains. “I wanted to be out on the field playing so I had no problem making the switch.” It’s that type of team-first attitude that has allowed Sanchez to develop into a key component of a senior class that is small in numbers but big on leadership skills.
“Jesse is very athletic and physical, which were his best attributes as a quarterback,” Mountain Hawks head coach Andy Coen explains. “His best chance to get on the field was to move him to defense so after he saw time on special teams as a freshman we began to integrate him into the defense.”
Sanchez began to make an impact early in his sophomore season, blocking a punt in Lehigh’s win over Princeton and later intercepting his first career pass versus VMI. He ended the year with nine tackles, including a season best four versus Holy Cross. During his junior year Sanchez appeared in all 11 games for the Mountain Hawks as a backup safety, and also playing in nickel and dime packages.
This season Sanchez is the lone senior starter in Lehigh’s secondary, a role he enjoys. “When I was a freshman and sophomore, the upperclassmen tutored me and showed me the ins and outs of the position, so I feel like it’s my job to help the younger guys in my position group.” He continues, “I think a lot of people on the team view me as a leader even though I’m not a captain. I try to lead by example and I love to get my teammates fired up with a big hit.”
“It’s important to have a senior back there (in our defensive backfield),” Coen explains. “Jesse’s been a huge help to the younger guys just the way he leads by example and how hard he works. This is his first season as an official starter, but he’s played a lot of football for us and is the ultimate team-first type of person. He’s a great example for all the kids in our program about working hard and pursuing something you are passionate about; the game of football is very important to Jesse.”
As a senior Sanchez knows this is his last opportunity to play the game he loves in front of the people he loves most, his parents Eladio and Karen, who have been in the stands watching over him at nearly every game during his time in the Brown and White. “My parents are very supportive of me, on and off the field. They have always wanted what’s best for me.” A supply chain management major, Sanchez would like to pursue a career in logistics upon graduation, but first he has other business to take care of. “Winning the Patriot League title is all that matters right now,” Sanchez states. “I think we need to be more consistent on the defensive side. Last year we would come out at the start of games and let up a big drive or it would take us awhile to get into the flow. That needs to change this year.”
Sanchez and the Mountain Hawks will return to action on Saturday, September 26 when they play host to the Princeton Tigers at Goodman Stadium on Kids Day. Kick-off is set for just after 12:30 and tickets can be purchased in one of three ways: by calling 610-7LU-GAME, by visiting the Lehigh Athletics Ticket Office, located in Grace Hall, or by logging onto Lehighsports.com at anytime.