Saturday's high school football playoff schedule
Class 6A Division I state quarterfinals
Lake Travis (11-2) vs. O'Connor (13-0), Alamodome, 4 p.m.
Class 6A Division II state quarterfinals
Austin Westlake (13-0) vs. Steele (9-4), Alamodome, 8 p.m.
There are bigger, faster and more athletic high school quarterbacks than O’Connor senior Roel Sanchez, but any college football recruiter would be hard-pressed to find a more complete player at the position.
“Roel is a winner,” Panthers coach David Malesky said this week. “He’s the total package. He’s the best high school quarterback that I’ve had the opportunity to coach.”
Sanchez has been one of the most prolific high school quarterbacks in the state this season, passing for 2,469 yards and 30 touchdowns and rushing for 1,011 yards and 21 TDs.
Not bad for a guy who stands only 5-foot-10 and weighs 180 pounds, small by any measure when it comes to what college coaches look for in a prospective quarterback.
Malesky is frank when he talks about Sanchez’s size.
“We in the world of football are not very smart sometimes from the standpoint that we’re going to judge success based upon physical stature, I guess, and say that a kid is a great player because he’s 6-foot this and he runs a 4.5 this, or he weighs this much,” Malesky said. “Well, there are things about Roel that are not measurable.
“But the most important thing that’s measurable about Roel is the fact that has helped our team be successful. He is a winner. That’s the first thing that comes to mind. The only thing that Roel is lacking, according to our football experts, is that Roel isn’t 6 foot tall or taller.”
Sanchez will be in the middle of the fray when O’Connor (13-0) plays Austin Lake Travis (11-2) in the Class 6A Division I state quarterfinals at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Alamodome.
Lake Travis, which beat Judson in the second round of the playoffs two weeks ago, is the defending 6A Division I state champion and lost in the 6A Division II state final two years ago.
A victory against the Cavaliers would put O’Connor in the state semifinals for the second time in school history. The Panthers fell a step short of the finals in 2012, finishing 12-2. This year’s team already has made history, setting a school record for most wins in a season last week when it beat San Benito 52-43 in the third round of the playoffs.
None of that matters much to Sanchez now. There will be time later to reflect on O’Connor’s memorable season. The only thing he’s focused on now is doing everything he can to help the Panthers get past Lake Travis.
“They’re a good team all around, but every year is a different year and it’s a new team,” Sanchez said Friday. “We’re a new team. We’re going to get our game plan from our coaches. They do a great job of preparing us, and we’re going to go out and play our game.”
Sanchez has been on the O’Connor varsity for three seasons, alternating with senior Clayton Maxwell at quarterback on every series as a sophomore and starting full time the last two years.
Working closely with offensive coordinator Byron Hooper and quarterbacks coach Robert Gomez, Sanchez has improved steadily each season.
“Definitely my sophomore year, switching in and out helped me out a lot, understanding the offense here at O’Connor and getting that varsity experience,” Sanchez said. “Last year was another experience, starting. This year it’s really carried over. All the experience that I’ve had has helped me out this year.
“I just love the game. I’ve got great teammates around me. During the offseason, we work out together and push ourselves. I’m not the only one making plays out there. Linemen do a great job blocking. We need help from the defensive side of the ball. We’ve got some athletes over there. It’s a great effort all around.”
Malesky credited Hooper and Gomez for molding Sanchez into an outstanding quarterback.
“I can’t sit here and say that Roel has not been blessed with ability, because he has,” Malesky said. “But there are a lot of athletic guys out there that aren’t great players. Roel is the total package. He’s extremely coachable and it needs to be said, too, that our offensive coordinator and our quarterback coach have helped him be the player that he is.
“Because he’s so coachable, Roel is going to take his natural ability. He’s going to his desire, then he’s going to take the things that he’s learned from his coaches, and that’s the product we end up seeing week in and week out.”
One other quality that has made Sanchez such a valuable player is his leadership.
“The first thing is, and this is something that stands out to me, is the quiet confidence he has,” Malesky said. “He’s not one of these cocky, outlandish, look-at-me kind of guys. He’s very confident in what he does. He’s confident in his teammates and I think that an awful lot to do with it.
“He trusts the people to do their job, and he gets to go do his job. The kids, they feed off of that. They know that he’s going to do everything he can and he encourages his teammates to do everything they can.”
Sanchez said the seniors on this season’s team were freshmen when they made winning a state title their goal. O’Connor lost to Judson in the playoffs each of the past two seasons, falling to the Rockets in the first round last year and the second round in 2015.
“A lot of us came together. We all had goals,” Sanchez said. “They were the same goals and that’s what’s made us grow together as a team, all focusing on one thing. That’s driven us since we got to O’Connor as freshmen.”
Born in San Antonio, Sanchez grew up wanting to play football at O’Connor. His older sister graduated from the school in 2014, and he went to Panthers games all four years she was a student.
“When they went to the state semifinals in 2012, I was there,” Sanchez said. “My sister was on the dance team and I followed them all four years she was in high school.”
If he doesn’t get any scholarship offers, Sanchez plans to try to make the team at Texas State as a walk-on and pursue a career in coaching.
“I’m still hoping something comes along after the season because I do want to play in college,” he said. “I want to coach because I’d like to help out others.”
For now, it’s all about winning a state championship for Sanchez.
“Undefeated going into this game, we haven’t played our perfect game,” he said. “Coach (Malesky) really stressed that. We have to work for our perfect game. We’ve had games that we’ve won, and we still made a lot of mistakes. We came out with the win with our effort. We’re never satisfied and we’re always hungry to get better."
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