For Coach Richard David Sanchez from St. Augustine Catholic High School in San Diego, Calif, gentrified North Park sector, his affinity for football goes far beyond playing the game.
That’s why, when his personal ball playing career came to an end after graduating from New Mexico State University (he later went on to receive his Master’s Degree from San Diego State University), which began in pop warner tackle when he was eight years old and continued through Sweetwater High School, the Mexican-born, SD-raised former athlete knew he wanted to pay it forward.
I always had a passion for the game and to share it with young men – that’s what the Lord wanted me to do… somehow, my calling was to get back to high school.
Inspired by his father and uncle, both who the 48-year-old self-proclaimed Charger fan credits with instilling “compassion, value of hard work and education” in him; encouraged by the coaches that coached him throughout his years as a player; and, most recently, influenced by the coaches he coaches alongside with today, Sanchez knew — and still knows — his calling is in coaching others. He started his mentoring career while in college and, almost eight years ago, found his home at the all-boy school of 800 students, whose mascot is the Saints, helping it achieve a winning percentage of over seventy-five percent in the last seven years, as well as win two championship games out of four consecutive appearances, bringing the school’s total to five championship wins since its inception in 1922. “These guys are some of the most disciplined kids I’ve ever worked with,” says Sanchez about his team, which includes 200 players between JV and Varsity. “I would definitely say they are over-achievers.”
Despite having such a love affair with football, Coach Sanchez is well aware of the physical consequences of the game, and as the ever-changing sport continues to place focus on safety, he continues to reinvent his program to make sure his players are up-to-date, informed and educated. “About two years ago we had a kid that made a block and broke his vertebrae,” he shares. “He had to be helicoptered in to the hospital. The following week, we had a couple of players hurt pretty bad. Then, we were smacked in the face when Junior Seau, whose nephew was on our team as a Freshman at the time, took his life. It hit home what a head and neck injury can do… So, we stepped back and looked at what we can do [and] we started teaching kids about safety a bit more closely.”
Made up of three parts — Strength and Conditioning, Athletic Training and Educating — Coach Sanchez’s package makes sure to tackle (pun intended) every angle of player safety and prevention across the board.
“Strength and Conditioning’ helps strengthen movement of the head to restrict neck and head from moving,” he explains. During “Athletic Training”, there is a pre-concussion and post- concussion test conducted before and after a player is hurt to test the brain waves and make an accurate determination if there is an injury and potentially understand the severity of it. And, finally, during the “Education” portion, Coach Sanchez himself makes sure his kids understand what concussions are and are aware of the symptoms (headaches, blurred vision, etc) so they can more easily recognize if they’ve been concussed and so that the appropriate measures can be taken (which can include having a child abstain from football for a number of days or all- together and/or get medical treatment).
Most recently, Coach Sanchez and his team invested in a couple of KERR Collars, a new protective gear created by a New York City Chiropractor named Dr. Patrick Kerr that is worn by players and is intended to create an extra level of protection for the neck area to help prevent injury to the head. And, while they haven’t put them to the test yet since football season hasn’t started, he is hopeful they will add another dimension to his proactive safety philosophy.
“When you come from a school of 800 boys, it’s very seldom, if at all… that we finish the season with the same amount of guys we started with due to injuries,” concludes Sanchez. “But, if we can save one or two kids from getting concussions or broken shoulders or broken vertebrates, then, we are on the right track. Then, I’ve really done my job.”