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Confident with a capital ‘C’

08/27/2013, 5:31pm PDT
By Steve Brand, Special to the U-T

Hilltop QB seized the starting job as a sophomore and doesn't plan to let go.

— it’s something every quarterback needs to succeed, yet not everyone possesses.

Hilltop High’s Daniel Sanchez was involved in a three-way battle for the starting quarterback job last fall, and an outsider wouldn’t rate the sophomore’s chances very high since he was facing a challenge from a senior and a junior — his brother Chris.

“I expected to be the starter,” Daniel Sanchez said with a shrug. “I’d get into the coaches’ room at lunch, before and after school to watch film. I knew in order to be the starter, I’d have to outwork everyone.

“It paid off. I was a step ahead of the others, and it gave me confidence.”

There’s that word again.

Sanchez has lost none of that confidence as he heads into the 2013 season, this time as the No. 1 quarterback after completing 75-of-166 passes for 1,059 yards and 11 TDs against seven interceptions. He also rushed for five touchdowns.

The 5-foot-11, 160-pounder credits his father (Orlando) and grandfather (Ismael) for the work ethic that allowed him quick success.

“When I’d watch games with them, they’d tell me not to watch the ball but to see how the quarterback dropped back, to watch his steps and release points,” Daniel said. “Then, when my brother and I would play catch, I’d try to do those things.

“My favorite quarterback is (Patriots star) Tom Brady, so I’d watch and try to copy him any chance I got.”

In return for the help, Orlando had a not-so-small demand: Daniel had to get a 4.0 GPA. A “B” was pushing it, and anything lower than that unacceptable.

“My dad told me if I didn’t get my grades right, I wouldn’t be playing football, and he meant it,” said Sanchez, whose weighted GPA is right at 4.0.

Sanchez helped lead the freshman team to the South Bay League title in 2011, and at the end of the year was called up to help the junior varsity do likewise. But he admits that he had to prove himself all over again when he not only made the varsity last fall, but won the starting job.

“I got off to a rough start; it was a big jump,” Sanchez said. “I think my teammates questioned if I was good enough, but my friends knew I’d do whatever it took to make it right. Coach (Cody) Roelof helped a lot, too.”

Roelof said Sanchez’s passing and running ability were obvious.

“It was not handed to him. He had to earn it,” Roelof said. “From the start of the season, he took huge strides. He was accepted quickly by his teammates because he’s such a hard worker. Oh, he had his moments — they all do — but he stuck with it.”

After not even scoring in their first two games and losing the next two as well, the Lancers saw Sanchez’s perseverance pay off as Hilltop won six of its next seven games, including a victory over Orange Glen in the Division II playoffs.

The reward? A game against top-seeded and eventual champion Oceanside, the section’s top-rated team, which resulted in the team finishing 6-6.

In the spring, Sanchez played right field on the varsity baseball team, which he says helped him stay in shape and improve his arm strength.

During the summer, he made more strides, using the knowledge he gained last year to further boost his confidence. He’s also hoping that Chris will be given a chance to play receiver this year so all those days of tossing the ball around will pay dividends.

One of the things Daniel has learned quickly is that being the team’s quarterback brings with it the spotlight.

“You just can’t do stupid things,” he said. “I’ve stood up for guys who were being bullied, trying to calm things down and let others know that isn’t acceptable. My father and grandfather taught me the three F’s — faith, family and football.

“Actually, school comes ahead of football, but it doesn’t start with an F.”

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