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Sanchez uses brains, brawn with Redhawks
J.J. Sanchez considered it an honor when he was voted to the preseason all-Ohio Valley Conference football team late last month.
Sanchez said he was even more honored just a few days earlier when he found out he had been named an OVC Medal of Honor winner for the 2009-2010 academic year for achieving the highest grade-point average in a conference-sponsored sport.
Sanchez became the first Southeast Missouri State football player to claim an OVC Medal of Honor since Matt Boyack during the 2006-2007 school year.
"I take pride in that," said Sanchez, a senior nose tackle who has a perfect 4.0 GPA for his first three semesters at Southeast after transferring from junior college in January of 2009. "I'm here first to get my education."
While excelling in the classroom, the 6-foot-1, 277-pound Sanchez also made his mark on the field last year in his first season with the Redhawks.
That led to the OVC's coaches and sports information directors voting him preseason all-conference.
"I was surprised when I heard," said Sanchez, a native of Glendale, Ariz., who attended Glendale Community College in his hometown. "It's cool, but it's only preseason. I just have to keep working hard."
Although Sanchez plays a position that normally doesn't lend itself to eye-popping statistics or receiving considerable notoriety, Southeast coach Tony Samuel said Sanchez left an impression on most of the teams he went up against.
"A lot of people were asking 'Who is this guy?'" said Samuel, whose squad held its first practice Thursday and is scheduled to work out in full pads for the first time today. "He's a very active football player. He was a force for us coming out of junior college."
Sanchez recorded 46 tackles last season, tops among all Southeast down linemen. He ranked seventh on the team in tackles, fifth in sacks (1.5) and sixth in tackles for loss (4.5).
"I just take on the double [teams] and let everyone get the glory," a laughing Sanchez said of his role playing over the center in Southeast's defense as he often tries to occupy several blockers at once.
Sanchez, one of two Southeast players voted preseason all-OVC -- junior quarterback Matt Scheible is the other -- said his wrestling background helps him on the football field.
Sanchez was a state champion heavyweight wrestler in high school.
"There are a lot of moves you can do with your hands that are similar with wrestling and football," Sanchez said.
Samuel said many of the skills used in wrestling translate well to the football field, notably footwork, balance and hand actions.
"I love those wrestlers," said Samuel, whose roster features several former standout high school wrestlers. "And J.J. is a great student, a real quality kid."
Sanchez, a criminal justice major, aspires to become an FBI agent. First he wants to have a big senior season and help revive Southeast's struggling program.
"We lost a lot of close games last year," said Sanchez of Southeast's 2-9 campaign that featured a last-place 1-7 OVC mark. "We should be a lot better."