Sanchez never plays it safe

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:10 AM ET

Davis Sanchez played basketball in the Canada Games as a kid. One of his teammates was Steve Nash.

Nash you know as the Canadian who became an NBA superstar.

"I was his back-up guard. I didn't get much playing time. I'm jealous of him," said Sanchez.

Nash isn't likely to be jealous of Davis Sanchez. But he would probably think it's pretty impressive what Sanchez accomplished since those Canada Games days considering, at the time, he hadn't played football, and wouldn't until his second year of college.

Sanchez takes pride in what he's accomplished as a Canadian so far in his football career. He says a lot of people aren't really aware of what he's done.

The Eskimos fact book tells you that he was only the second Canadian-born player to start in the National Football League.

But, next year, Sanchez wouldn't mind seeing a few more lines in there.

"I think the most interesting thing considering where I come from is that I was a starting cornerback in the NFL. Hopefully there will be another one sometime in the future. But I'll always be able to claim I was first. To my knowledge, I'm also the only Canadian cornerback ever to lead the CFL in interceptions and ever to be an all-star cornerback. Again, hopefully, there will be plenty more after me."

Sanchez says when it comes to Canadians in the defensive secondary, they usually throw you at safety because that's where you're supposed to play - because you're the Canadian.

"I'll always appreciate Jim Popp in Montreal and Rod Rust, who was the defensive co-ordinator when I got there the first time in 1999.

"They pretty much threw me in there first. There was no Canadian cornerback in the league at all. Everybody told me I'd be a safety when I got to the CFL.

"They believed I was a good enough athlete to play the corner. They believed in me from the beginning. I have never played a down at safety."

If that sounds remarkable, try this. Sanchez turned into an all-star player at the top of the CFL payroll and never played high school football. In fact, he only played a few games of college football.

"Football wasn't a part of my life until after high school," said the Vancouver-born seven-year pro.

"In my first year of college, I played basketball.

"I played soccer growing up and then basketball in high school. In North Delta, soccer was huge. I always figured I'd be a pro soccer player in Europe. I remember once, when I was a kid, my mom asked me to mow the lawn, and I told her I didn't have to because I was going to grow up to be a professional soccer player.

"When I got to high school, soccer wasn't so popular. All my friends were playing basketball. North Delta High didn't have a football team. I played basketball and went to Butte Junior College as a basketball player."

At 5-foot-9 and 183 pounds, he wasn't the second coming of Michael Jordan.

"I was a point guard and I figured out that a point guard who couldn't make a jump shot probably wasn't going to play pro."

Davis admits that he was driven by the idea of playing pro sports. And it had something to do with his idea to switch to football after his first year of college, playing for the Surrey Junior Rams until he went back to Butte Junior College.

"I played three games of junior and then went back to college and was a walk-on in football at Butte."

He liked it.

"I liked the contact. And I thought maybe I could be a pro football player."

A junior college All-American at Butte, he was recruited by Oregon, where he became a teammate of Jason Maas with the Ducks. His defensive coach was former Eskimos assistant coach Rich Stubler - now of the Grey Cup champion Toronto Argos. Also on the staff, as a student assistant coach, was Rick Campbell, now his defensive co-ordinator with the Eskimos.

"It really was going from small-time to big-time. I went from 2,000 fans in the stands at Butte to 50,000 at Oregon. It was a big-time program.

"Oregon was very short-lived. I only played six games. I fractured my leg and never played a game.

"But I was a Canadian, and I was invited to the CFL combine, and I was drafted by Montreal.

"In my second year with the Alouettes, in 2000, I led the league in interceptions."

Danny Maciocia was there as an assistant coach.

The NFL was all over him.

"The whole time, I thought I was going to go to the Washington Redskins. But San Diego flew me down there. I'd never been to San Diego before. I fell in love with the place. It was closer to home."

Sanchez's career has been littered with CFL connections no matter where he has gone.

The head coach in San Diego at the time was former Winnipeg Blue Bomber head coach Mike Riley.

"I started two games as a cornerback as a rookie."

San Diego offered him a one-year contract after his first two years in the league."My agent believed it would be best if I looked around for a better situation with more playing time. That ended up being the wrong decision. I left there and ended up not being picked up by another team."

He ended up in the CFL with that Calgary Stampeders.

"Calgary just really put together a good package for me. It was a similar contract to what I had down in San Diego."

That was two years ago, when Sanchez received his baptism in the Battle of Alberta.

"Growing up in B.C., I didn't realize the hatred between the two Alberta teams. In Calgary, it was almost like you could salvage your season by beating Edmonton on Labour Day.

Of course, you all remember what happened on Davis Sanchez's first Labour Day.

It was the Labour Day Brawl in which Ed Hervey swung his helmet at Sanchez.

"Ed and I talk about that now," he said of his teammate who had a go with him again, minus the helmet-swinging, at training camp.

"We should have got a cut of the gate of the game back here on the Friday. Our fight had a big impact on ticket sales."

The Friday return match drew a crowd of 62,444, the largest regular-season crowd in CFL history.

At the end of the season, Sanchez was history.

"Owner Michael Feterik decided we weren't successful and traded all the guys who were making money. Joe Fleming ended up in Winnipeg. I ended up in Montreal.

"It worked out great for me. I was extremely happy to go back to Montreal."

At the end of last year, Sanchez became a free agent, however. And he decided to look around the league.

"Edmonton was always the place where, sometime in my career, I wanted to play.

"The Eskimos gave me what I was looking for, which was a long-term contract. It's fine to jump around when you're being paid well. But sometime, you want to settle down and be part of a team for a long while."

He's settling in nicely.

"I bought a house. I plan to be here and get involved in the community.

"The biggest thing for me is how good the organization is at taking care of us. The team is run like an NFL organization. They make it great to come to work every day. And the best part is how much the city cares about their football team. You hardly ever go out and not have somebody tell you 'Good luck next week!' or 'What the heck happened last week?'

"And I can't wait to play before 60,000 again like I did here two years ago on the wrong side of the field. I play off a crowd like that."


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