When 23-year-old Mark Sanchez was drafted to play quarterback for the New York Jets last year, he went from being a middle class son of a Southern California firefighter to an instant millionaire.
To ease the jarring transition, the two older brothers who used to knock him around in the backyard sprung into action to help manage what had suddenly become the Sanchez corporation.
"While he might not have to punch a clock or put a tie on like most of us, he still has a ton of work to do," Sanchez's eldest brother, Nick, told HispanicBusiness Magazine. "We wanted to maximize Mark's potential to succeed."
Sanchez was drafted in April 2009, putting him in the tiny club of Hispanic NFL players that currently makes up just 1 percent of the league's entire roster.
Nick, 37 -- and himself a former quarterback for Yale -- is a business litigator by trade, and now serves as his little brother's agent. He worked long and hard, for example, on Mark's $50.5 million, five-year contract.
The middle brother, 31-year-old Brandon, took time off from his job as a finance specialist in the precious metals industry in Southern California and moved into Mark's new home in New York. There, Brandon helps his brother manage the surprising amount of day-to-day tasks that come with the high-profile job.
That can mean everything from handling charity calls, media interview requests and business queries to the more mundane duties of making sure bills get paid on time and the car's oil gets changed.
And then, of course, there's the 800-pound gorilla: how to deal with the sudden geyser of money.
"I liken somebody in Mark's position to more of a lottery winner than a traditional business person," Nick said.
Like a lottery winner -- and unlike most people -- Mark's earning power will most likely taper off in his older adult years, Nick said. And like lottery winners, pro athletes often find themselves unprepared for the onslaught of financial suitors angling for investments and partnerships. The brothers help Mark navigate that minefield, as well.
"If this is the only time he works to take care of himself, we want to make sure he's not investing in speculative businesses," Nick said. "Instead of trying to grow, it's more trying to protect."
If victory is a fair gauge, it's safe to say Mark's support network hasn't hurt. His season began with a bang, with three victories out of the chute, each one earning him NFL's Rookie of the Week award. Although Sanchez hit a rocky stretch in the middle, he led the team with a steady hand during the post-season, with impressive victories over both the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Diego Chargers. Sanchez and the Jets finally succumbed to the fabled Peyton Manning and the 15-2 Indianapolis Colts. But even that game was a good one, with the Jets roaring out to a 17-0 halftime lead before losing 30-17.
Through it all, the brothers' heavy involvement during Mark's rookie year embodies the closeness that the Sanchez family has long held dear. To be sure, there have been rough patches: their father, Nick Sr., and mother, Olga Macias, divorced.
Yet, through football, the family has been able to reunite. Olga and Nick Sr., along with sons Nick and Brandon, attended several games together.
So did scores of other relatives. In January, when the Jets upset the San Diego Chargers, 127 of Sanchez's relatives sat in the stands. Many most likely had to break off old team alliances: Sanchez grew up in Orange County, about an hour north of San Diego.
If it isn't common for most Mexican-American boys to get involved with football, it sure was for the Sanchez sons.
Nick Sr. was a quarterback for an inner-city school in Los Angeles, and then for East Los Angeles Junior College.
He passed his knowledge of the game first onto Nick, (who does not go by "junior") and then Brandon. Nick Sr. also volunteered as a trainer for the football team at Mission Viejo High School. So by the time Mark came around, football was everywhere.
"Ever since he could walk, he was at our practices," his brother Nick said. "Running around, chasing us, putting on pads, falling over because they were too heavy."
During his elementary and junior high school years, Mark played in junior leagues -- usually as a center or lineman, never as a quarterback. (He didn't play QB until high school.) As a kid he served as the high school team's ball boy. He and his father often worked long into the night on his passing game at a local park, with the aid of their pickup truck's headlights.
Despite all the training, Mark's father says he never expected that one of his young boys would make the NFL.
"Never in a million years," Nick Sr. told HispanicBusiness Magazine.
To him, sports are largely about character.
"I've always felt there's more to be gained from athletics than running and jumping," he said. "I was a big proponent of the mental strength it provided."
Nick Sr. added that even though Mark is in the NFL, nobody in the family has forgotten that he's still the little brother.
"His two older brothers have done a tremendous job of keeping him humble," he said, with a laugh, adding, "he's still the one they harass."
It might be tough to remember when watching Mark on television, all suited up and revered. But at the end of the day, Nick Sr. said, he's still 23.
"You take those guys playing on Sundays out of their helmets and out of that environment, and put them home on the couch, you see they're the same as any other youngster that age," he said. "He still likes to eat pizza and chicken wings, watch TV and play video games. I feel really good about that."
Despite the miniscule number of Hispanic players in the NFL, Nick hesitated to call his brother a trailblazer. Indeed, others have preceded him, such as Jim Plunkett, whose mother was Mexican American, and who won the Super Bowl for the Oakland Raiders in 1981. And there was Joe Kapp, who took the Minnesota Vikings to the Super Bowl in 1970. (They lost to Kansas City.)
"I think guys like Plunkett and Joe Kapp were more instrumental in that regard, and Mark is following," he said. "But he considers it a real honor to represent the Jets in general as a football player, as well as our family, and he's especially proud to represent the Hispanic community who haven't often had someone in his position."
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