Friday, Dec. 2, 2011 | 5:10 p.m.
Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer sign off on the high school football season by dissecting the final game of the season, a state championship showdown between Gorman and Reed in Reno. They also praise for Liberty for its effort against Gorman in the semifinals.
Bishop Gorman High football coach Tony Sanchez and his assistants are huddled Friday morning near an escalator in Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, meticulously taking inventory of players as they hustle to a film session.
Sanchez’s voice is a bit raspy from not going to bed until the wee hours of the morning while putting the final touches on his team’s preparation for Saturday’s large-school state championship game.
The coach is a stickler for detail, knowing the stakes will be high when the Gaels attempt to win their third straight title when they play Reed High of Sparks.
Since the players arrived Thursday night in Reno, they’ve been on a tight schedule. Meals, multiple film sessions and a walk-through practice, among other activities, are planned to the minute. The coach keeps the schedule in his back pocket and is constantly reminding the players of their next step — with hoisting the state championship trophy surely planned for around two hours after the 12:15 p.m. kickoff.
“We know that if we stick to what he is saying and what we know, we’ll get the deal done,” said Ryan Smith, Gorman’s junior wide receiver and a three-year starter. “We are playing a good team, so every little detail counts.”
There is no doubt Sanchez is the captain of the Gaels’ ship. He is demanding of his players and coaches, and is typically the most intense person in the traveling party — one that includes several fans in Gorman blue and orange packing the Grand Sierra lobby — and not afraid to be vocal in his displeasure if someone isn’t mentally focused. After one player made an error during the afternoon walk-through, Sanchez barked: “I’ll buy you a ticket and put you in the stands.”
Later in the day, while addressing his players, Sanchez launches into one of his legendary motivational talks. The players listen intently as the coach urges them to seize the moment in the final four quarters of the season.
That’s what makes him so popular. He is strict and disciplined as a coach, but he’s always the first one on the field hugging players after a win.
Much has been made about Gorman having to face the adversity of playing away from home in lower temperatures and with a hostile crowd urging on hometown Reed. But it was the same drill two seasons ago when Gorman knocked off Reed in the state semifinals — they led 35-0 after the first quarter, becoming one of only teams from the Las Vegas Valley to successfully handle traveling up north.
If you spent one minute with the Gaels on Friday, you’d have understood why Gorman had so much success two years ago. Sanchez, a former college graduate assistant, organizes road trips comparable to a college program.
He even called an audible at the airport Thursday when the team’s flight was delayed, keeping close to his schedule by having players fly on standby instead of arriving after midnight. Players were in their rooms by 11 p.m. — saving three valuable hours and keeping them on track.
“Being focused and organized is what you have to do. If you aren’t focused, everything can go downhill,” said senior Ronnie Stanley, Gorman’s heavily recruited offensive tackle.
It’s no secret few will be pulling for Gorman (14-1) in Northern Nevada. Even at home, it’s the hated private school, losing just three games since Sanchez became coach in 2009 and becoming a nationally respected program.
When the team’s two buses pulled into Damonte Ranch High for the walk-through practice, a sign welcoming both teams spelled Gorman, ‘Garmon.’ You could easily argue that was intentional.
“It’s impossible to misspell Gorman,” Sanchez said. “That’s a subtle message.”
The Gorman practice attracted a minor crowd at Damonte Ranch with a group of about dozen of the school’s players observing the state’s unquestioned best team. They witnessed the Gaels intensely going through offensive plays and tightening up the strategy to defend Reed’s no-huddle passing attack. Like all Gorman practices, one coach filmed each play from on top of the press box — a job where battling the elements is secondary to having valuable film for the night film session.
“When you are playing in week 15 or 16, it’s not physically preparing the kids, it is mentally preparing them,” Sanchez said. “You have to have a pulse of your team and how to motivate them for a game like this.”
Reed quarterback Anthony Silva has passed for 40 touchdowns and just six interceptions, and four receivers have caught at least eight touchdowns. Reed (12-1) has outscored opponents 676-199, dominating Carson 49-0 in last week’s Northern Region title game.
So, if anyone can dethrone the Gaels, it’s Reed — something Sanchez doesn’t hesitate to tell his players. It’s the same message every week and a major reason why Gorman hasn’t lost to an in-state opponent in Sanchez’s coaching tenure.
As with his preparation, the message in Sanchez’s talks never changes: Be accountable, prepared and enjoy the game. He ends with: “I’m proud of you.”