On the back of Phoenix Moon Valley’s spring football Rockets shirts is CarlosStrong.
Carlos Sanchez’s memory is all they could hold on to late last season after the junior linebacker sustained a head injury against Glendale Cactus and later died.
Devastated, the Rockets lost to Peoria the following week, 53-8, and then, facing Cactus again, this time in the first round of the 4A playoffs, lost 71-8.
The season couldn’t have ended any sooner for grieving players and coaches who are now back on the mend, trying to get ready for a new season during spring workouts with about 35 players knowing they need to let go.
“Unfortunately, (Sanchez’s death) did bring us together,” senior-to-be cornerback Dayne Bobzien said. “That’s a pretty bad way to bring us together. But it makes us a stronger team, and especially a stronger community.
“Our community outreach is amazing.”
Coach Seth Millican is conscious of how Sanchez’s death impacted the football community not just at Moon Valley, but all over the country. There has been special emphasis during spring ball to teach safe tackling. Soft-padded helmets have been ordered for summer 7-on-7 competitions.
But Millican also is being careful not to use Sanchez’s death in a way that would exploit him.
“But I’m very cognizant or I’m very worried about exploiting it. I told my coaching staff that at no time are we allowed to use his memory to motivate the players to play a football game or anything like that. At this point, every idea we have to honoring him, I want it sincerely vetted and make sure it’s done in the right way.”
It’s a tough situation for any team to have to go through, to find ways to stay in the moment and grind through the details of making a successful football season.
But these guys are bonded forever, and they’re motivated to play.
“It’s something to always keep us pushing, because Carlos would always push to be a better teammate, better person,” quarterback Isaiah Southwick said. “We’re just keeping him in our memory and trying not disappoint who he is.”
Millican said there hasn’t been a dropoff of the number of players working towards next season since Sanchez’s death.
Southwick said he knows what happened to Sanchez could happen to anybody, but “you’ve got to keep playing like he would want us to.”