PHARR — PSJA North’s Seven Sanchez locked down The Monitor’s All-Area Defensive Player of the Year award after a sensational season leading the Raiders’ vaunted blackshirt defense and giving opposing offenses nightmares.

Sanchez, the back-to-back District 30-6A Defensive Player of the Year, was an elite pass defender and run stopper. The senior safety notched 10 pass deflections, eight tackles for loss, four sacks and four forced fumbles while also leading the district with 158 tackles, numbers usually reserved for linebackers and defensive linemen.

He outpaced all other defensive backs throughout the Valley in tackles, but barely led his own team. Sanchez and linebackers Micah Lopez and Aaron Alvarez each tallied at least 140 tackles as part of a unit with a plethora of playmakers at every position.

“It was fun just knowing that I could trust everyone and just worry about my job,” he said. “We were always competing with each other. I think that’s what made us so close. ‘I’m going to beat you on this; I’m going to beat you on that.’ Even on sprints it was, ‘I’m going to beat you; I’m going to beat you.’ Even the linemen took off with us trying to beat us.”

Sanchez made himself a household name with his physical, fast and hard-hitting style of play in the secondary. It’s an approach he adopted after watching years of film of his favorite player, former Pittsburgh Steelers great and six-time All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu.

During a game midway through the season, Sanchez read a deep pass, sprinted backwards and came down with a one-handed, game-clinching interception for the Raiders in a district game against La Joya Juarez-Lincoln and observers were quick to compare it to a signature Polamalu snag.

Sanchez credited that kind of playmaking ability to adding Polamalu’s instinct and preparation to his game.

“He just always knew what was coming and didn’t care about his body. He just wanted to win,” Sanchez said. “He would watch a lot of film. That’s what I started doing and it really helped me.”

His preparation paid dividends because Sanchez often seemed to be playing at a different speed than his competition. He watched so much film that it allowed him to play without thinking, even if he had to be told when it was time for his study sessions to end.

“When I should be asleep, I’ll just be up watching film,” he said. “My mom will go, ‘It’s 3:30, quit looking at your film!’”

Sanchez was a star defender for the Raiders for the entirety of his high school career. After spending his freshman year on the varsity squad and rarely playing, he recorded at least 100 tackles in his sophomore, junior and senior seasons.

But even when Sanchez was recognized for his exceptional play in his first season as a starter, he was hungry for more.

“Well it was kind of crazy because my sophomore year I got second team all-district. I took that in as motivation,” he said. “I got mad about it. I told myself that wasn’t going to happen again, so I came back and tried to bring it every single game.”

He followed that up with an incredible junior season that featured 184 tackles and netted him his first district defensive player of the year award and a spot on the all-state team. Sanchez continued to ramp up his level of play this year and became a true triple threat defensively as a pass rusher, ballhawk and run stopper.

“I do whatever I’ve got to do, but if I had to choose one it would be defending the run,” Sanchez said. “My mentality is stop them at the line of scrimmage. I got better by watching a lot of film and watching a lot of Polamalu.”

Since the season ended, Sanchez has been busy evaluating his college options. He hopes to find a home where he can continue his football career.

“It’s laid back and stressful. I try not to stress about it too much. I see people getting offers and I just tell myself, ‘Now’s not my time, but it’ll come,’” he said. “I don’t know where I’m going to go yet, but I just know that wherever I do go, I’m going to play to the best of my abilities.”