Marcelo Sanchez-Heredia: The FlameThrowers’ Man of Steel
There has been a quiet but imposing figure smiling and signing autographs for young children after every single FlameThrowers game of the season. And yes, I do mean every single one. That person is Marcelo Sanchez-Heredia, better known as Celo – and for his perfect attendance record he has been given the Steel Spirit Award for three straight years, a feat no other AUDL athlete has ever accomplished. In more than a thousand points played during his professional career, he has been a crucial presence on the field for both the San Francisco FlameThrowers and the San Jose Spiders (with whom he won two AUDL championships).
The 6’1” athlete brings to mind the big friendly giant – terrifying on the field but polite and pleasant once the final buzzer rings. He has more playing time than any other FlameThrower, and is among the top five on the team for completions, assists, goals, catches, plus/minus, and touches this year. In 2016, he had 24 assists, 15 goals, and 17 blocks; this year he has earned 34 assists, a monstrous 40 goals, and 10 blocks so far. Very few players prove themselves so exceptional on both sides of the disc. But he is also the type of guy who would skip around a room on his birthday when prompted by his teammates.
Sanchez works as a Community College Counselor at Las Positas College, where attended for two years before he transferred to UC Davis. He first began playing ultimate during gym class in grade school, but couldn’t throw well and wasn’t hooked on the sport until his freshman year of high school when he attempted to get a layout block and stood back up covered in his own blood. While the offensive player still caught the disc, their gym teacher told Celo that he had earned an A+ for the day. According to Sanchez, that moment is “when I knew that I could be okay at ultimate and that I should catch my D’s.”
Okay is an understatement. Sanchez returned to the field his sophomore year, prompted in part by his longtime friend (and former FlameThrower) Patrick Lahey. While at first he alternated seasons between ultimate and track & field, by his senior year he was ready to focus on ultimate alone. His soccer, baseball, and basketball backgrounds translated well to the sport and he helped make Castro Valley High Red Hand the second-best team in the state.
Celo loves ultimate because “it is truly unique in how it’s played and the community that surrounds it.” While he still loves laying out, he says that “being with and learning from others is what keeps me coming back.”
In college, he joined the Las Positas College Hawks for two years of both athletic and personal development. According to his friends, he started “pushing himself harder, meeting up and throwing with people, being willing to teach others, getting better with his cuts and throws, and laying out more.” He changed from a quiet, seemingly shy individual to a comfortable, self-assured, and actively contributing member of the team.
Photo: Marcelo Sanchez-Heredia lays out for a disc during a game between LPC and Sonoma State.
When Sanchez transferred to UC Davis he continued to improve himself and his teammates relentlessly. The UC Davis Dogs placed 17th at College Nationals in 2012, and by the following year they had leapt a remarkable twelve spots higher in the extremely competitive division – they came in fifth at 2013 College Nationals to cap off his senior year at Davis.
After college, he was good enough to make the championship-winning San Jose Spiders – the start of a prominent professional ultimate career that shows no time of slowing down any time soon. But he never forgot his roots. To this day, he continues to teach the Castro Valley High students when he can. His friends say “the kids know he is a great role model to gravitate towards and Marcelo teaches them everything he knows. The kids aren’t afraid of asking him questions and seem like they can act towards him like he’s their friend.”
Sanchez competed with the FlameThrowers in 2016, but this year the team’s roster was determined by Revolver rather than the traditional tryout process. This has altered the team mentality in many ways, but he believes that these are almost entirely positive.
When asked about the shift caused by the Revolver-FlameThrowers partnership, he explained that “not only do the AUDL repetitions help with improvements for the club season, but it has been great to get to know some new teammates on and off the field like Antoine [Davis] and Sawyer [Thompson]… It has definitely been a pleasant surprise to have Antoine on the offensive line with me from time to time.”
“Throughout the season, even if our numbers have not always been there in terms of player attendance, I have been impressed by the fact that everyone on this team embraces their specific role and does not try to do too much,” he continued. “We embrace the grind and are more aware of not hanging our heads when things don’t go our way. The captains and coach have done an amazing job of reinforcing positivity all season.”
Even with the team as a whole improving, Sanchez never stops working. On an individual level, he has been working on improving the the timing and quickness of his cuts. While much of this is due to extra time he has been putting in outside of practice, he selflessly admits that “a lot of credit goes to my teammates who give me constructive feedback in between points.”
He is looking forward to showcasing his skills this Sunday in the Western Conference Championship against either the San Jose Spiders or the Los Angeles Aviators, depending on which team wins the semifinal match-up on Saturday night. He is trying to look at it as just another game, but admits that the stakes are higher than usual and he would rather play the Spiders than the Aviators because the two teams know each other so well and are even against each other this season.
No matter who the FlameThrowers end up playing, it is certain that Celo will have an impact on the field. While standing on the sideline during a previous FlameThrowers game, I heard one of his teammates say that he is “the greatest athlete to ever play ultimate.” His friends say he is one of their “all-time favorite” people within the ultimate community, and are awed by how much he has improved from a quiet high-schooler with questionable throws to one of the most elite competitors in both professional and club ultimate.
Win or lose, this much is guaranteed – Celo will be suiting up on Sunday afternoon and continuing his remarkable streak of never missing a game, and afterwards you can find him smiling and signing discs for his adoring young fans at the autograph table.
Tickets are still available for the Conference Finals! Buy them here today before they sell out.
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