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The Playmaker: Atwater's Sanchez named Football Player of the Year

Football player of the year, Atwater High's Nathan Sanchez, pictured  in Merced, Calif. Dec. 28, 2009.
SUN-STAR PHOTO BY BEA AHBECK Football player of the year, Atwater High's Nathan Sanchez, pictured in Merced, Calif. Dec. 28, 2009. Merced Sun-Star

Bob Valladao was helping make highlight clips for some of his players when it dawned on him.

The Atwater football coach helped about 10 players put their DVDs together before the winter break.

When it came time to put Nathan Sanchez's disc together, Valladao had plenty of highlights to choose from.

"We did one for Nate during the season because colleges wanted some stuff," Valladao said. "When I was going through his stuff after the season, I forgot a lot of the things he did.

"Things like how well he played against Bullard on both sides of the ball. The interception against Beyer that he ran back for a touchdown. The big run against Pitman stands out. He made so many big plays."

Sanchez was the ringleader of Atwater's offense, passing for 1,364 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also ran for 895 yards and another 12 touchdowns.

He also made his mark on defense as one of the top defensive backs in the Central California Conference.

After being named the CCC Most Valuable Player and leading Atwater to the second round of the playoffs, Sanchez is the Sun-Star Football Player of the Year.

Sanchez came into this season wanting to make Atwater football relevant again.

Atwater hadn't made the playoffs since 2002.

"I think we accomplished our goals," said Sanchez, who has drawn interest from Sacramento State and Northern Arizona. "More people were into it and willing to put stuff out there. Everyone was more dedicated."

Sanchez's most memorable moment came in Santa Fe Bowl XL when Atwater defeated Merced 21-20.

Sanchez led Atwater down the field in the final minute and hooked up with Steven Odom on a 41-yard touchdown pass with 5 seconds left to steal the win

"It was amazing to be a part of history and the way we won it," Sanchez said. "We were finally able to end that drought"

Sanchez also benefitted by working with Jarrod Pimentel, who rejoined the varsity coaching staff this season.

Pimentel already had a good relationship with Sanchez as his baseball coach.

"I think it made a tremendous difference from the last two seasons," Valladao said. "Nate matured a lot. He put on about 20 pounds from his junior year.

"I think working with Jarrod made a huge impact. He was there for every rep. He was constantly telling him to throw to the clear and not the clutter."

Sanchez led every step of the way.

The three-year starter didn't come off the field very often on Friday nights.

He was just as valuable at safety as he was at quarterback.

"I'd rather have the ball in my hands than anything else," Sanchez said. "I was willing to do anything the coaches asked.

"It was nice to be on the other end of some hits for a change. It made for some sore Saturdays. But it usually helped knowing we won."

Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at