As Oxnard High lines up for its first offensive play Friday night against unbeaten Santa Barbara, Tom Sanchez will have his eyes on the tight end. The Santa Barbara assistant coach will be making certain the Yellowjackets haven't pulled the old switcheroo--slyly lining one of their speedy running backs next to a tackle, then sending him flying past the coverage for a long pass.
It wouldn't surprise Sanchez if the Oxnard back even donned the uniform number of the tight end.
It's not that Sanchez doesn't trust Oxnard Coach Jack Davis. In fact, he knows him all too well. And that's why he'll be checking.
Peel back the calendar to 1965 and a game between the Davis-coached Hueneme Vikings and San Marcos. Disguised in a uniform of a different number, Hueneme's all-state tailback lined up at tight end for the first play. He streaked downfield and hauled in a long pass for a touchdown.
The tailback-turned-tight end was Tom Sanchez.
"San Marcos felt that was awfully unsportsmanlike and my quarterback got his leg broke early in the game," Davis recalls.
Minus his passing game, Davis called Sanchez's number--his real number--46 times in the next 47 plays. Which reminds Sanchez of another Davis tendency . . .
"He'll definitely stay with the running back who is hot. Jack will give him the ball over and over," Sanchez says. "And his best back always gets the ball on critical downs."
Sanchez, who went on to play at Missouri and UC Santa Barbara, piled up 236 total yards against San Marcos on his way to more than 2,000 total yards that season. Not every story has a happy ending: Hueneme lost the game and was 1-9 in what was Davis' first year at the school.
The Davis-Sanchez relationship went deeper than that of a coach and his star player. Sanchez played for Davis as a sophomore at Imperial High and as a junior at Central High in El Centro. Davis was a good buddy of Tom's father, Pete Sanchez, a prominent rancher in the Imperial Valley, and Tom lived with the Davis family in Oxnard the summer before his senior year.
"Jack was as much another father as a coach," Tom says.
Davis coached at 3 schools in 3 years, but was able to rely on Tom Sanchez at tailback and middle linebacker wherever he went.
"Tommy was an outstanding athlete and a great kid," Davis says. "He was part of the family."
Imperial was 8-1 Sanchez's sophomore year and Central was 6-3 and won the Imperial Valley League title his junior year.
So, the Friday game at Santa Barbara's Peabody Stadium will be a reunion of sorts. Davis and Sanchez will roam opposite sidelines while another Sanchez, Tom's son Chris, tries to spoil Davis' dream of bringing a league championship to Oxnard (6-1-1 overall, 3-0-1 in league play).
Chris, a 6-foot, 3-inch, 210-pound junior, plays fullback and defensive end for Santa Barbara (8-0, 4-0).
"Knowing how close my dad is to Coach Davis makes me want to show them I'm as good as my dad was when he played," Chris Sanchez says.
Davis doesn't need much convincing.
"He looks exactly like his dad," Davis said. "I was watching film of Santa Barbara and called my wife into the room. I said, 'You want to see Tommy Sanchez run again?' "
Don't expect 46 carries out of Chris Sanchez, however. He serves mainly as a blocking back for tailback James Hale, who has rushed for 915 yards. Sanchez says he carries the ball, "five or six times a game," but in a 24-17 win over Buena last week, Sanchez carried 12 times for 88 yards.
Oxnard will counter with its explosive wishbone attack, which renders useless Tom Sanchez's theory that Davis repeatedly calls the number of the hot back. Because of the wishbone's option nature, Oxnard quarterback Johnel Turner waits until after the snap to decide which back carries the ball.
Davis is experimenting with the wishbone for the first time in nearly 30 years of coaching, although one couldn't tell from its success. Turner is the leading rusher in Ventura County with 1,037 yards and 10 touchdowns. Fullback Bryant Taylor has 910 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Imagine how strong the team would be if Chris Sanchez, who started last year as a sophomore, was suiting up for the Yellowjackets? Davis has asked himself that question, according to Tom Sanchez.
"Before we played them last year, I took Chris over and said to Jack, 'Meet my son, Chris,' " Sanchez recalls. "Jack said, 'Is he as fast as you were?' Then he said, jokingly of course, 'There are some nice houses in Oxnard Shores.' "
Chris is quite happy at Santa Barbara, thank you. "I love playing on this team," he says. In fact, the last time a Davis-Sanchez alliance was forced, the results were mixed.
After Tom Sanchez helped Imperial High to a banner season as a sophomore in 1963, his family moved into the Central High attendance district. Pete Sanchez, who Davis describes as "a very forceful person with a lot of community influence," wanted his friend Jack Davis to take the vacant head coaching position at Tom's new school. So, Pete made some calls.