Auggie Sanchez has emerged as the ‘quarterback’ of USF’s defense

USF middle linebacker Auggie Sanchez ranks 11th in the nation with 8.0 tackles for loss per game. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/ADAM MATHIEU

There are plenty of adjectives that can be used to describe middle linebacker Auggie Sanchez’s impact on USF’s defense.

“Captain,” “quarterback” and “bell cow” are a few his teammates throw around. But coach Willie Taggart prefers to use one that’s a little more PG-13.

“Auggie’s a badass,” he said, smiling.

However you put it, there’s little denying just how much the redshirt sophomore has meant during the Bulls’ surge this season. 

Sitting at a team-high 81 tackles going into Saturday’s game against No. 21 Temple, Sanchez is on pace to be just the 10th USF defender to surpass 100 tackles in a season.

“The beauty is that he’s consistent at what he does,” Taggart said. “You don’t ever hear him blame anyone or make excuses and if he makes a mistake, he’s the first one to be down on himself. But he’ll be locked in to get himself back and ready to go, because he understands that everyone else is watching him as well.”

Rated a consensus two-star recruit out of St. Petersburg’s Northeast High, Sanchez was originally placed at fullback when he signed with USF in February 2013.  But after redshirting his freshman season, the team opted to try him out at middle linebacker in spring practice.

That’s where he found his niche, finishing fourth on the team with 65 tackles during his 12 starts. 

Though his quick transition was eye opening to most around the program, the success didn’t come as much of a surprise to Sanchez.

“I was never a fullback,” Sanchez said with a laugh. “I was a little chubbier, so, actually, I started off as a defensive nose guard, and I kind of grew out of that and I played linebacker a little in Little League. But then when I got to high school, it was mostly linebacker and defensive end.”

At Northeast, Sanchez was a two-sport standout, dabbling in basketball in addition to football. Though prolific as a forward/center, it was the 6-foot-2, 244-pound Sanchez’s production on the gridiron that cashed his checks.

As a senior, Sanchez racked up a whopping 183 total tackles — 66 solo — and 16 tackles for loss. 

The key ingredient to his success back then? A meal at Chick-fil-A before every game.

Two years later, Sanchez has taken a healthier approach by walking out onto the field before pregame warmups to visualize the plays. His drive, however, remains the same.

During the week, Sanchez can often be found in the film room with linebackers coach Raymond Woodie.

“I think they’re always together,” Taggart said. “They’re always ragging on each other. You can tell they spend a lot of time together, because they’re always getting after each other. 

“Auggie, he’s been that kind of guy — a student of the game.”

But most of his passion stems from first-year defensive coordinator Tom Allen, who considers Sanchez the “quarterback” of his 4-2-5 scheme.

“He runs our defense,” Allen said. “I put a lot of pressure on him, myself. I expect a lot from him. I’m hard on him, but I love him and appreciate him. He’s a special kid, because he’s just so consistent.” 

While it took other players a while to buy into the system that Allen brought with him from the University of Mississippi, Sanchez said he was a believer from Day 1. 

“I definitely embraced it because of Coach Allen,” Sanchez said. “Coach Allen came in here and sold me on it because he’s had success with it and it fits what we go against weekly. I was sold.”

The Bulls are sold on Sanchez, too.

“He does it all,” said junior receiver Rodney Adams, who played basketball with Sanchez at Bay Point Middle School before moving on to Lakewood High. “I mean, he’s a smart player, he knows how to fit his gaps and he’s always making big plays for us. 

“We’re going to need him down the stretch.”

In other words, the Bulls need Sanchez to be that “badass,” especially when it comes to slowing down Temple’s speedy running back Jahad Thomas and dual-threat quarterback P.J. Walker.

“I’ve got really good guys around me (and) got a really good defensive line that allows me to flow and make plays,” Sanchez said. “I mean, without them, I wouldn’t have 81 tackles.

“Without them, I wouldn’t be playing as well as I’m playing.”