ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Players joining a new NFL team say that digesting their new playbook is a lot like learning a new language.
Then that goes double for Mark Sanchez, who isn't just absorbing the parlance of Gary Kubiak's West Coast offense in Denver but also mastering the tongue of his Mexican-American roots.
"I think it's important to learn Spanish," Sanchez said. "One, because it's my heritage and two, because I'm fortunate enough to live in a country that celebrates where you come from. And I think when you learn another language like that, I think it's good for your brain. You just continue to advance in knowledge. And then the most important thing was to be able to connect with those fans."
Sanchez said his parents spoke Spanish "to each other, just not to me," while he was growing up in Mission Viejo, California, and his only real exposure to the language came in the classroom.
When the New York Jets drafted him out of USC in 2009, Sanchez said he was embarrassed when fans would speak to him in Spanish and all he could respond with was, "Gracias."
So, he started listening to language tapes in his car on the way to work as his career took him from New York to Philadelphia. He also vacationed in Mexico every summer.
Sanchez said his philosophy with a new team is three-fold: quickly get to know your teammates, devour the playbook and become involved in the community.
After the Broncos acquired him from the Eagles on March 11, Sanchez figured that with Colorado's large Latino population, it was time for some advanced language lessons.
So, every day at team headquarters he peppers one of the team's chefs, Alfredo Gonzalez, with questions in Spanish.
"I try to talk to him as much as I can about whatever I can, whether it's ordering food or just asking questions about his family and listening to what he says and asking him more questions just to continue to practice," Sanchez said.
With training camp underway, Sanchez, who is vying with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch for the starting job, is clearly comfortable both in his communication on the football field and in his bilingual abilities away from it.
Sanchez is so capable in Spanish now that he conducted this interview with The Associated Press in both Spanish and English.
"I'm just happy that I took the time and effort to be able to communicate with fans," Sanchez said. "I felt so embarrassed my first couple of years that I couldn't."