Sanchez showed maturity in taking responsibility for the defeat, telling reporters, "Last week I was the hero, and this week I am a zero."

In the spring, with Booty drafted into the NFL, Sanchez won the starting job after a spirited competition with transfer Mitch Mustain and freshman Corp. "Mark assumed the spot very comfortably," Carroll says. "He asserted himself in the huddle and with his guys. It's clear that this is the right decision for us at this time."

"We saw tremendous leadership ability with Mark," Sarkisian says, "a guy who enabled the other 10 guys on the field to go out and play even better. I think the team felt his energy, felt his competitiveness."

Courtesy USC
Courtesy USC

In his first official appearance as the starter, at the annual intra-squad scrimmage at the Los Angeles Coliseum, Sanchez flashed his play-making potential. Facing the first-team defense, he faded back and hit sophomore receiver Ronald Johnson streaking down the right sideline for a 37-yard touchdown hookup. Afterward, with a relieved grin, he dutifully completed postgame duties: he iced his right shoulder, addressed myriad television and print reporters, and signed autographs for eager alumni and their children.

"I think the team really understood that I can handle difficult situations," he says. "I expressed my leadership well, and that was the main goal."

Not long after the scrimmage, with the semester concluded, he began to prepare for the upcoming season. After his family made their annual trout-fishing expedition to Crowley Lake, near Mammoth Lakes in the eastern Sierras, Sanchez spent the summer shuttling between USC and Orange County. He took one class at Annenberg (in persuasion), directed the team's informal practices and weight-lifting sessions, and trained with coach Johnson. He also worked as a sous chef at Phil Trani's restaurant in Long Beach (he makes a mean fettucine alfredo), took in some musicals (Wicked, A Chorus Line) and practiced his guitar.

Earlier this month at practice, Sanchez dislocated his left knee. He's expected to recover in time for most of the season, which starts Aug. 30 at Virginia. He's smart enough to recognize that Carroll has surrounded him with talent. Once he returns to the lineup, Sanchez won't feel intense pressure to gamble or freelance—which all too often results in interceptions or sacks for negative yardage. "The quarterback's best friends are a good defense and a good running game," he says. "We should be very balanced and very efficient."

USC has also tried to dial back expectations regarding Sanchez. His face isn't on the cover of the team's media guide, and it was senior linebacker Brian Cushing who accompanied Carroll to the PAC-10 media day. And yet, because of his crossover status as starting quarterback and Latino star-on-the-make, the media has descended. He and his family were profiled in ESPN Magazine; Rego, the LA-based Latino lifestyle magazine, did a photo shoot and an interview. And—shades of Joe Kapp—he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated (with Cushing and linebacker Rey Maualuga). This time around, the word "Chicano" wasn't used.

With Trojan fans breaking out homemade ¡Viva Sanchez! T-shirts, some observers have attempted to compare the attention beginning to surround Sanchez with Fernando Mania, the fevered response to Fernando Valenzuela's ascension with the Dodgers in the 1980s. That misses the point. Valenzuela came to Los Angeles as a 19-year-old, left-handed pitcher from Sonora who didn't speak any English. Sanchez was raised in relative comfort in Orange County and groomed to play quarterback since high school. Valenzuela was a unifying figure everyone embraced, in part because his roly-poly girth was so Everyman-ish. It's doubtful UCLA fans will cheer for Sanchez, no matter his lineage or looks.

Still, Sanchez's journey—a multigenerational exodus from Mexico to Chavez Ravine to Orange County to the Los Angeles Coliseum—is unique. "For Mexican-Americans, it's kind of a blessing," Longoria says. "It shows the fallacy that Mexican-American athletes can't be leaders, can't handle the pressure. All they need is the opportunity."

Carroll says that he can't yet measure the impact of Sanchez's Latino heritage on college football. "I know Mark is very proud to represent," he says. "We'll find out in the fall about the following he creates and all of that. It'll be cool to watch what happens."

His high-school coach is confident the USC community will embrace its new leader. "The public will get behind ¡Viva Sanchez! Mark'll do fine with it," Johnson says. "He'll handle it better than any kid his age could ever do."

Sanchez says he's prepared for all the hoopla. Though he's not bilingual (he speaks some Spanish, but "understands it really well"), he plans to "work on it in the future" to forge a deeper connection with the Latino community.

But he knows that once he takes the field, his heritage won't matter. His performance will be measured only against those of his immediate predecessors—Palmer, Leinart and Booty—and the Trojans' six consecutive PAC-10 titles and two national titles under Carroll. "There are a lot of expectations, but that's what this position is all about," he says. "It comes with the territory, and I'm excited about it. Now it's time for me to make my own mark and have my own legacy."

That might include the unveiling of a new mouthpiece. "It'll be a surprise," he says with a sly grin. "We'll figure it out. It's going to be something good, something universally good."

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15 comments
Brainwashed_in_church
Brainwashed_in_church topcommenter

"Mark Sanchez needs to get rid of the Mexican-flag mouthpiece," one outraged fan allegedly wrote. 

One fan might have written something like that. Maybe someone did, maybe someone didn't. Sounds like an overreaction to sell newspapers.

obedsilvaj
obedsilvaj

Keep up the good work, Mark Sanchez. And never stop being proud of your heritage. Your grandparents would be proud of you, for you are a realization of their dreams. Smile when you wear that mouthpiece--let the world see it.

sweetliberty17761776
sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter

Sorry Mark , any chance the msm gets to act like they are not racists which they do by pointing the finger at (possible) easy targets


has put you in the spotlight




jamiepizza99
jamiepizza99

chicano heritage not Mexicano..he don't habla espanol and doubt he ever stepped foot in Mexico..he aint proud,  he just needs to follow the trend..trend for now,  but wait till some democrat president in the future opens that border(they will eventually) and all you proud chicanos will hate Mexican Heritage and regret siding with the dems...you will find out the hard way when you feel that knife in your back!

MikeRuehle
MikeRuehle

Who would want a RAPIST as their cultural mouth piece?  The reason why the girl didn't press charges for rape in 2006 is because she was paid off heavily by USC boosters to NOT testify, forcing law enforcement to drop the charges. 

Gabes79
Gabes79

Everyone should be proud of their heritage.  There will always be haters in every place in the world.  Mark Sanchez is a good qb, and it's his own right to wear any colors he wants on his mouth piece.  You can't satisfy everyone.

spencerj05
spencerj05

The only people I've ever known that have had a problem with Mark Sanchez are other people of Mexican descent that make fun of him for (what I assume is just a rumor) not being able to speak much Spanish.

MikeRuehle
MikeRuehle

@obedsilvaj:  Mark Sanchez mass raping a girl in a bar with a bunch of his buddies is something his grandparents are probably not too proud of. Certainly not the realization of their dreams. 


If Sanchez smiles, its because he knows he has wealthy friends and boosters who can always get him out of a jam the rest of us would go to prison for.

ltpar
ltpar topcommenter

@spencerj05 Or perhaps they are just losers in life who are envious of his success?    One can be proud of their cultural heritage without speaking the native tongue.  

 
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