Tampa teen makes U.S. National Junior Air Rifle Team

- Matthew Sanchez is 15 years old and he's gunning hard to make the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. 

"It still takes a lot of work but I'm determined to make it," he said. "If 2020 doesn't work out, then I'll still have 2024 and 2028 to do. I'm determined to make several." 

"Right away, out of the box, he's got just a natural talent," said his coach at Wharton High School, Chief Wayne Boknevitz.

The Wharton High School sophomore took on air rifle shooting about five years ago. Not only does he have a knack for the sport, Sanchez also has a lot of heart for it. In fact, he listens to his heartbeat as he lines up each and every shot.

"What you'll have to learn to do is how to shoot in between those pulses," he said. "You have to really nail down how fast or how slow your pulse is and eventually take the shot on the downbeat."

"After you're done shooting, you don't really want to do anything because you're just so tired. Ninety percent of it is mental," Sanchez explained. 

Sanchez was recently in Colorado Springs for the National Junior Olympic Shooting Championships where he won the bronze medal in the Men's Air Rifle competition. 

"This one I ranked overall which got me into the national team for Air Rifle," Sanchez explained. 

Getting on the podium meant Sanchez earned a spot on the National Junior Team. Later this year, he'll compete overseas for the first time.   

"To be placed on the podium with a sophomore in the Air Force Academy is unbelievable," said Boknevitz. "I mean, he's shooting against 20, 21, 19-year-olds, and he's made it already to that level." 

"It's really exciting, and it's really nerve wracking, but that's what the whole game is," Sanchez said.

Game on. Sanchez's target goal of Olympic glory is in the works.

Later this summer, Sanchez will go to Germany for his first overseas competition with the U.S. National Junior Team. Then in the fall, he'll head to South Korea.

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