VANCOUVER — Davis Sanchez played football like few other Canadians.
In fact, he was the only Canadian to start at cornerback, a position dominated by imports, during his 11-season CFL career. The Delta, B.C., native officially hung up his cleats Monday, retiring after he spent the last two campaigns with the B.C. Lions.
“I didn’t see it any differently,” said Sanchez, 37. “I was always the cornerback. Whether I was a Canadian or wherever I was from, it didn’t make any difference, because that’s all I’ve ever been.”
Drafted by Montreal sixth overall in 1999, he played 155 careergames with the Alouettes, Lions, Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos. He recorded 28 interceptions and three fumbles, returning four of his takeaways for touchdowns.
Along the way, he earned three Grey Cups, with Edmonton in 2005, Montreal in 2009 and the Lions last year. He was a three-time East Division all-star as well as league all-star one season.
Sanchez hopes he has opened CFL talent-seekers’ eyes to Canadians’ abilities to play the so-called skilled positions usually reserved for Americans. But he acknowledged that teams will be slow to adopt change.
“There’s not going to be all Canadian corners,” he said. “That’s just not going to happen.”
The University of Oregon alumnus also played in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers in 2001, recording 19 tackles over 16 games, and again briefly in 2002.
“I’ll miss the game and I’m going to miss my teammates,” said Sanchez, whose 2011 season was cut short by an elbow injury that limited him to five games. “It’s been such a big part of my life.”
Lions general manager Wally Buono and coach Mike Benevides hope a permanent replacement for Sanchez will emerge at rookie camp, which begins later this month, or when main camp opens in early June.
Buono praised Sanchez for providing leadership, even though he could not play, as the Lions completed their improbable march to a Grey Cup victory following a 0-5 start.
“I’ve always liked Davis and I’ve always liked the fact that he’s been a good mentor to the young guys,” said Buono. “He’s been a good example to the young guys as far as work ethic and what it takes to be a pro.”
Sanchez said he could not have displayed the same patience earlier in his career. But it was still difficult to have to watch the miraculous comeback following the disastrous start.
“It was kind of bittersweet,” he said of the Grey Cup triumph.
As for the other championships, he will appreciate them more when he looks back on his career five or 10 years from now. He will now work full-time on a football academy that he operates across the B.C. Lower Mainland.
“I don’t think people give him enough credit, because he’s a man with a Canadian passport that played a position that not many Canadians did,” said Benevides. “He was a professional. He was a guy that was always able to make plays.”
Benevides said he did not know what to expect from Sanchez after he signed as a free agent with the Lions before the 2010 season. But the cornerback “blazed the course for other non-imports” while dominating at his position.
“He was a guy that did everything that was asked of him,” said Benevides. “He had an outstanding career.”