If you’re wanting to be greatly inspired, Summit High School football coach Nick Matheny would be glad to point to the two kickers on his team.
Seniors Salah Wahab and Denise Sanchez are both “awesome kids” who, through hard work and dedication, have overcome obstacles and become valuable contributors for the SkyHawks, Matheny said.
Wahab has made a remarkable recovery after being severely injured in the lower part of his body during a terrible boating accident last year.
“Lots of people told me I wouldn’t be able to play football again,” he said. “My doctor said, ‘Don’t be expecting too much.’ But I stayed optimistic, I persevered, I held on to my family and friends real close, and I got through it.”
On Sept. 29, Wahab kicked a 25-yard field goal and was 3-of-3 on PATs in Summit’s 44-0 win over Rim of the World.
That same night, Sanchez, the backup kicker, got her chance to shine. She calmly stepped on the field and was successful in booming two straight extra points through the uprights.
And that wasn’t all: Sanchez was crowned the school’s Homecoming queen at halftime.
“It’s pretty amazing,” she said after her exciting day. “I’m thankful for everyone who voted for me and for all the support from my teammates and coaches. It’s pretty great to have this once-in-a-lifetime experience with everyone.”
Sanchez is one of only a few female players in the history of prep football in Fontana who have kicked extra points in games.
—– WAHAB said he was “in the wrong place at the wrong time” on July 3, 2022.
While vacationing in Arizona with his family, he jumped off a deck into the water at the same time that “someone who wasn’t paying attention” was backing up a boat, he said.
“I broke both knees and both of my femurs, shattered my left knee, and broke my right tibia and right fibula,” he said.
He was hospitalized for two months and underwent extensive treatment and physical therapy.
As his condition started to improve, he maintained hope that he would be able to be a kicker, although he was concerned because a peroneal nerve (which supplies movement and sensation to the lower leg, foot and toes) had been shattered.
“My right foot can’t go up and down very well, although it can go side to side,” he said. “So it makes it hard to do everyday things. Kicking is hard, and I get pain pretty quickly, but I roll with the punches.”
He worked out constantly in the weight room at Summit and achieved an important milestone, becoming a member of the 1,000-pound club.
And now, “being on the field is a blessing. I’m happy to be with my team, which has always supported me. I’m happy to be alive.”
Matheny said he has no words to describe how proud he is of Wahab’s determination and courage.
“We didn’t know if he was ever going to be able to kick again, so to see what he is doing now is astonishing,” Matheny said. “His first kickoff of the year was a touchback against Los Osos. I had tears in my eyes when he let it rip.”
—– SANCHEZ also astonished Matheny when she told him back in January that she was interested in football.
“The next day, she was there in the weight class,” Matheny said. “I don’t know if we’ve ever had a female athlete go through the entire weight process like she did. Then she came to every summer workout; she never missed a day. She’s a really, really good kid.”
Sanchez said that playing soccer at Summit during the winter season has helped prepare her for her current role.
“Kicking a football is different from kicking a soccer ball, but it’s nice to be able to do both,” she said. “I enjoy pushing myself to reach my full potential.”
Sanchez (who is also an Explorer with the Fontana Police Department) said it is “really cool” to be on the gridiron.
“It’s a new experience and a new environment — especially being the only girl on the team,” she said.
Her teammates — in addition to all of the fans in the stands — were ecstatic when her first PAT was perfect.
“You could sense what a good person she is by the eruption of the crowd when she was Homecoming queen and when she made her first extra point,” Matheny said. “We were all so excited for her. We’re really fortunate to have her in the program.”
Sanchez is thankful for the assistance she has received from Wahab.
“We get along really well. It’s nice to have someone with you while you kick,” she said.
Wahab said of Sanchez: “She’s probably one of the most fun people to talk to on the field, someone I could relate to.”
Wahab is also pleased with the accomplishments of his older brother, Salem, who is now playing football at UCLA as a long snapper. Salem, who was a standout offensive lineman and long snapper while at Summit, played at Northern Colorado before transferring in April and earning a spot on the UCLA Athletic Director’s Honor Roll for the spring of 2023.
And now, based on their eagerness to excel, both Salah Wahab and Denise Sanchez have a bright future ahead of them.