FORT GIBSON, Okla. — Just before the Fort Gibson High School football team played its final game of the season, first-year head coach Greg Whiteley challenged junior tailback Jesse Sanchez.
“I told him just before the game, ‘Are you ready to carry the ball 30 times?’ He said, ‘I’m ready,’” Whiteley said.
Jesse proved he was more than ready to handle the heavy workload. The Seminole Tribe of Florida member rushed for a season-high 241 yards on 33 carries and ran for three touchdowns to send Fort Gibson out on a positive note as the Tigers walloped Stilwell, 62-18, on Nov. 5 in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma.
After most of its starters graduated from last year’s team that reached the state semifinals, Fort Gibson shifted into somewhat of a rebuilding mode this season with a new head coach and a far younger squad, which included Jesse and his younger brother and fellow Seminole Sammy Micco Sanchez.
Fort Gibson finished with a 3-7 record and missed the playoffs, but the Tigers went 3-2 in the second half of the season to generate momentum heading into next year.
“We only had four starters back from last year’s 12-1 team,” Whiteley said. “We knew we’d have some growing pains. We got better and better.”
Jesse and Sammy spent the season on opposite sides of the ball. Jesse started in the backfield on offense while Sammy, a sophomore, handled middle linebacker duties on defense.
After being a backup last season, Jesse thrived in a starting role. Similar to his team, he generated stronger outings as the season progressed and eclipsed the 100-yard rushing plateau in three games.
“Jesse had a productive year at tailback,” Whiteley said. “He ended up with about 650 yards and six touchdowns.”
In addition to putting up huge numbers in the season finale, Jesse shined in a late October game against undefeated Poteau, the No. 2 ranked team in Class 4A. Fort Gibson lost the game, but Jesse rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns.
“Jesse has got real good quickness,” Whiteley said. “He had a really good year. He ran the ball real well.”
Stopping the run is one of Sammy’s tasks as a linebacker. Whiteley said Sammy had a strong summer but was sidelined for five games early in the season because of an injury.
“In the preseason, Sammy was a leader on defense. It was unfortunate he got hurt,” Whiteley said.
Despite the injury, Sammy finished with 35 tackles and should return as a key part of the defense again next season, Whiteley said.
“We expect great things from him. He’s got a chance to play at the next level,” he said.
Whiteley is also encouraged by seventh-grader Julius Aquino, a cousin of the Sanchez brothers. Julius is two years away from playing in high school, but Whiteley already likes what he sees at the middle school level.
“He’s one of the best seventh-grade tailbacks I’ve ever seen in my life,” Whiteley said.
As for the Sanchez brothers, both will hit the wrestling mat this winter at Fort Gibson before football practices resume in the spring.
“They’re good kids. I love coaching them,” Whiteley said. “They’re impact players.”