NORMAN — Just before Saturday's game at Notre Dame began, Rudy Sanchez leaned over to tell his daughter's boyfriend, who was sitting near him, that the Fighting Irish were going to go after his son on the first play.
He'd told Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma's redshirt freshman cornerback, the same that morning in a text message, and in one Thursday morning as well.
“I'm ready, pops,” Zack responded.
Rudy was right, and so was Zack.
Notre Dame went Zack's way on the game's first play, with Tommy Rees throwing to DeVaris Daniels deep down the sideline.
Zack leapt into the air and batted it away with his right hand, setting the tone for the game.
Zack, playing opposite of Aaron Colvin, figured he'd get thrown at quite a bit coming into the season. He wasn't even the starter entering the season. Sophomore Cortez Johnson was listed No. 1 on the depth chart but Johnson was suspended for the opener, leaving an opening for Zack. He hasn't looked back, starting all four games.
The way he's handled that pressure, though, has been what's made him one of the biggest surprises on a Sooner defense that has improved tremendously.
Two people — besides Zack — are big parts of why he's been able to perform so well under the spotlight.
The first is Colvin, a three-year starter who has served as Zack's mentor. The other is Lauren Chamberlain, one of the top college softball players in the country and Zack's girlfriend.
“Zack models everything after Slick (Colvin),” Sooners safety Gabe Lynn said. “Slick, he's coaching him up every time and then he's actually making it hard for Zack because he's shutting down the whole side of the field and everybody's picking on Zack and Zack's showing up so it doesn't even matter.”
Through four games — all starts — Zack has 17 tackles and five pass breakups. Three of those breakups came against Notre Dame.
It all started with work with Colvin just before the season.
“He knows what an offense is going to run, he knows what routes and the tendencies the receivers have and just the way he studies the game the week prior,” Zack said. “It was things like that I really picked up on.”
Film work might've been Colvin's biggest contribution to Zack's development.
“He's a film junkie,” Lynn said. “I think it makes up for his lack of experience. He's expecting stuff. I don't have to tell him, ‘Look for the fade in this,' or ‘Look for the deep ball in this series or grouping.' He knows what's coming and it kind of gives him a little advantage.
“He loves football. It's not just about the attention he gets after playing a good game. He really wants to go out there and play good football. That's what sets him apart from the other young guys. He's all for being a great player for all the right reasons.”
Then there's Chamberlain, who hit .458 last season in helping the Sooners to the Women's College World Series title.
“I think Lauren has really kept him humble and kept him on the right path,” Rudy said. “She's already been through the success of winning the World Series and all the attention and other hoopla. She's done a fabulous job with him.”
She also keeps Zack's competitive blood going when he's not on the football field.
“She's super-competitive,” Zack said. “Like if we drive separate cars and we're going somewhere, we're racing to where we've got to go.”
That competition and her work ethic easily rub off on Zack.
“She approaches it just like the guys in the locker room,” Zack said. “You don't see that much from a female athlete. The way that she trains and the way that she puts in work, we kind of have the same attitude. It helps a lot.”
No matter how well he's playing, though, Sanchez expects teams to keep testing him, at least as long as Colvin's on the other side.
“I'm still a freshman so regardless of how many times I think I've proven myself, they're still going to go out to me especially when 14 (Colvin) is on the other side,” Zack said. “I'm ready for it.”