Distance running was the vehicle that propelled David Sanchez on a journey from Farmersville to Visalia to Alamosa, Colo., where he became a college graduate and a multi-time NCAA Division II All-American at Adams State.
Now, as Sanchez takes over as College of the Sequoias cross country coach, the former Giant standout said it's his turn to help others from around the central San Joaquin Valley use distance running as a path toward a college degree and successful life after collegiate athletics as he takes over as the Giants' cross country coach.
"Coming from the Central Valley in a small little community, I know a lot of students don't see the opportunities COS has, and they don't take advantage of it," Sanchez said. "COS brings a lot of opportunity to student-athletes, be it in cross country, track, volleyball, football, basketball.
"I want them to have the opportunity to graduate with an Associates degree and put that Associates' to work and transfer out of here. I want them to take that discipline they learn in sports and put it to work at a four-year school."
After three seasons as an assistant under California Community College Cross Country and Track and Field Hall of Fame coach David Bronzan, Sanchez was selected to replace his retiring mentor in May.
During his time as a runner at COS, Sanchez was a state champion in the 10,000, while also placing second in the 1,500 and third in the 5,000. He went on to help Adams State, under legendary coach Damon Martin, win the 2012 NCAA Division II team cross country title while placing 12th in the national finals individually. Sanchez competed briefly as a professional before launching his coaching career at Adams State.
"I feel like its my turn to bring some of what (Bronzan) taught me and some of what Martin taught me and put it all together and train these student athletes to their full potential," Sanchez said.
The Giants' men's and women's teams open the season Saturday during the Fresno Invitational at Woodward Park. First race is scheduled for 8 a.m.
Sanchez is the third cross country coach at COS in the past 56 years, following the long stints of four-time state and six-time Northern California Coach of the Year Bronzan (1986-2017) and Joe Barba (1962-1985).
"Coach Bronzan left the program in good shape," Sanchez said. "He put in a lot of work, and he developed a lot of relationships. A lot of alumni come back and give back to the program because of him. He's helped them out a lot.
"Now he's passed the torch to me. He made a big impact on me. I need to give back to the student-athletes here as well."
Sanchez inherits a pair of relatively inexperienced teams, with the women replacing four of the six runners who competed in the state meet last season, including individual champion Alyssa Block, and the men replacing all six.
The women's team will be led by Lidia Briseno, a sophomore from John F. Kennedy High in San Fernando. Briseno placed 83rd individually at the state championships last season in 20:35.9, and Sanchez said he believes she could work her way into the top 14 - which earns All-American status - this season.
The Giants' other returner is Victoria Cota (Corcoran High), who placed 141st at the state meet last season in 22:35.0.
"It's a young team, and we have a lot of work to do," Sanchez said. "But if everything goes right, I think we can be a top 15 team at state."
COS' men's team has a deep group of runners who are expected to push each other for spots on the ladder, Sanchez said.
The team's five scoring runners could vary from meet to meet, according to Sanchez, and is expected to come from a group that includes two of the team's three sophomores in David Roderick (Redwood) and Zachary Lopez (Kingsburg), as well as freshmen Ismael Ramirez (Redwood), Joel Garcia (Monache), Christian Gonzalez (Corcoran), Oscar Perez (Dinuba), Luciano Linares (Exeter) and Leonardo Jimenez (Dinuba).
"This team is young, but that shouldn't be an excuse," said Sanchez, who added the Giants' men have the potential to be a state top-10 team. "Everything is possible. It's just having the right mindset, having teamwork, basically coming every day and putting in the hard work."
Sanchez said the men's team's goal is to produce three All-Americans.
"(The) Fresno (Invitational) is going to the foundation to our season," Sanchez said. "We'll build from there and see what we need to work on as we start focusing on each individual meet."
COS' season will culminate with the conference championships on Oct. 25 in Fresno, followed by the Northern California Championships on Nov. 2 in Redding and the State Championships on Nov. 17 in Fresno.