Oklahoma fans were excited when Mike Stoops returned to Norman to run the Sooners defense this spring. Their excitement likely pales in comparison to Zack Sanchez.
In a matter of weeks, Sanchez went from Baylor commitment to OU signee. And Stoops is the main reason why the versatile defensive back will wear crimson and cream in 2012.
OU's new defensive coordinator saw Sanchez's combination of versatility, toughness and ball skills and decided to offer a scholarship late in the recruiting process. Stoops also saw the hunger to succeed brewing within Sanchez.
"I can just tell he's a very ornery player and likes to compete at a very high level," Stoops said last spring. "I think that's what attracted him to Oklahoma as well."
At 6-foot, 165 pounds, Sanchez can play both cornerback and safety. His range and ball skills could make him an ideal fit to play free safety behind Tony Jefferson. After spending the majority of his high school career on offense, Sanchez developed a nose for the football.
He hit it off with Jefferson during his official visit in January, and Sanchez will be looking toward Jefferson as a mentor figure this summer and during the season.
"Since my visit, we talked all the time, we talked pretty much every day," said Sanchez, who spoke to SoonerNation before enrolling at OU in June. "We are the same personalities; we both are kind of crazy and random."
OU fans can only hope that Sanchez turns out to have the impact of Jefferson. The junior safety made an immediate impact upon his arrival in Norman and Sanchez has watched and admired his play from afar.
"He's relentless, he's everywhere," Sanchez said. "I was watching the Kansas State game [in 2011] and the Nebraska game when he was a freshman, and he's all over the place.
"And I feel like that's the type of player I can be. Just being everywhere, making plays. I feel like that's the type of player I can be."
Sanchez expects to soak up as much knowledge from Jefferson and other veterans in the secondary, such as cornerback Demontre Hurst. But he doesn't want to forget how he earned a spot on OU's roster.
"I want to keep my own game because I know I can play," he said. "I have to be my own player and just take bits and pieces from their game."
The true freshman hopes to make an immediate impact this fall but it won't happen without some ups-and-downs. Sanchez understands he won't be able to lean on his athletic ability anymore, so he has made his mental approach a focal point during summer workouts.
"You can get away with a lot of things in high school that you can't at the college level," Sanchez said. "I need to be more disciplined in my keys and not rely on my athletic ability to make plays."
"The mental part of it, from workouts to schemes on defense and being able to go through adversity and not be one to quit," Sanchez said. "[I want to] have a strong mindset."
Summer workouts and 7-on-7 sessions can be critical learning time for incoming freshmen. It often defines whether a player will make an immediate impact or is destined for a redshirt season.
Incoming freshmen tend to let it be known they plan to make an impact early in their careers by their mentality during the summer. Are they mentally tough? Do they compete? How do they handle the workouts? How do they handle failure? The answer to those questions help decide who plays immediately, even more so than their ability to handle the physical demands of being a Sooner.
"Everyone has the ability, so it's how mentally tough you are," Sanchez said.