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Nov. 18, 2006

By Danielle Warner

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Anthony. Tony. Gonzo. Those familiar monikers describe a most familiar force on the Ohio State football offense. And that is just the beginning.

The receiver from Cleveland, Ohio, spends his free time in an oxygen tent, while at the same time studying, catching up on emails. He even spends his nights sleeping in what has been dubbed “the bubble.” He is of Cuban descent and enjoys tackling the crème de la crème of Cuban recipes. After all, his mother did buy him a Cuban cook book to help him stir it up like a natural on the Food Network. So those are the familiar stories of one known as Anthony, Tony or Gonzo. Stories that have been told time and time again. However, it is worth mentioning just one more time, because after all, like all fairy tales, they cannot be told enough.

Let’s begin with that oh-so prominent and most remembered play a year ago that can be seen again and again on the college football highlight reels. For OSU fans, the inevitable appeared to be happening. Would it be possible for Ohio State to rally nine points down in the fourth quarter to overcome its arch nemesis in Michigan Stadium on a chilly, yet sunny day in Ann Arbor? It was first-and-10 for the Buckeyes on the Michigan 30-yard line. As Ohio State came out of timeout with just 47 seconds left in the game, the Scarlet and Gray lined up and quarterback Troy Smith delivered the pass of a lifetime, while Gonzalez hauled in the catch of a lifetime. After spotting No. 11 running down the right sideline, Smith fired a pass down the field to a leaping Gonzalez, who somehow managed to hang on at the 4-yard line despite a collision with Wolverine cornerback Grant Mason. In a moment, as that one call seemingly played out for hours, Gonzalez quickly became a football hero in the eyes of many OSU fans and heartbreaker in the souls of many Michigan fans. Is that not typical of any fairy tale hero? A heartbreaker at first glance, but a closer look reveals he only is trying to right a wrong.

It is not like anyone could ever convince Gonzalez to admit he played a pivotal role in that game, or any matchup for that matter, and that is exactly what makes him that much more adored throughout Buckeye country. He is a self-professed “boring guy” who simply cherishes his privacy and wants to be remembered not as Anthony Gonzalez the football player, whose timeless catches will be talked about for years to come, but Anthony Gonzalez who made a difference in a completely different capacity.

“The things I want to be known for are the things outside of football,” Gonzalez said. “I want to be known as a good person. A person who always tried to do what is right and stood up for what he believes in. Whether Ohio State fans see or know that or not, I have no idea, but that’s what I would prefer to be known as. Now as far as Ohio State fans go, hopefully they can respect my game and respect the things they know about me.”

Sounds like a guy who has more than just X’s and O’s in just the right place. For what it is worth, the media and fans in Columbus and throughout the country do take notice of all Gonzalez has accomplished away from the game.

Moving on to the famous story of Gonzalez accomplishing stellar grades in the classroom, he earned a 4.0 grade point average four times as a philosophy major. Coming into spring camp in April, that was the genuine topic of interest from the media, not just his acrobatic and game-saving grab against Michigan. Gonzalez’s sequel to The Catch? Well, how about a dean’s list performance in symbolic logic. What about after Gonzalez earns his degree in philosophy? Well, he hopes a career in the National Football League will be in the cards, but Stanford Law School is definitely a path this one-time Rhodes Scholar hopeful is going to travel.

“Hopefully, an NFL career will precede that, but law school is something I definitely will do no matter what,” Gonzalez said “I don’t care if I play zero years in the NFL or 10 years, I will go to law school. It’s just a matter of when and with that I will be able to do some things that help people and help my family.”

Even as the 2006 season neared and the hype surrounding OSU football grew as large as the Buckeye fan base, Gonzalez remained centered because whether he knew it or not, his time had arrived, as both a star, but also as a mentor to his teammates.

“As a team we love his presence, his ability and what he does for the team,” Brian Hartline, a redshirt freshman receiver, said. “For any young guy, Gonzo is a great guy to talk to. He has this calming presence. He will be realistic. He won’t give you the sugar-coated answer. He will be positive and give a straight answer, but he’ll be uplifting at the same time. He is a great combination of both.”

For Hartline, his praise of his teammate runs deep. The two have followed similar paths and Hartline hopes that for all the advice and tutelage Gonzalez heaps upon his young protégé, he too will have the chance to take the road that has helped Gonzalez make his mark.

“We kind of play the same position, that slot receiver position,” Hartline said. “He has helped me a lot. We both have had similar careers in that we both redshirted. He kind of felt my pain last year and helped me keep my head up. He is always there to correct me on mistakes in a positive way. We relate really well. When it comes to fixing mistakes on the field, he really knows what to say.”

No doubt, Gonzalez pinpoints every single mistake in the film room for increased precision the next time around. He wants even more exactness on moves that require him to run backwards for 8 yards after stopping in the middle of the field and then moving up field toward the right sideline before tip-toeing to the end zone to help Ohio State take a 28-10 lead against Iowa in a much anticipated game earlier this season.

Which leads to “the bubble?” From local news to ESPN, most people who know college football know about the famous altitude-simulating oxygen tent that has, Gonzalez said, helped him gain more energy because of its ability to help produce more red blood cells. Not just anyone would be able to stay on their feet, in motion for 30 yards before scoring the go-ahead touchdown. Could the oxygen tent have played a role? Maybe or maybe not, but Gonzalez’s mother, Jenna, attributed her son’s competitive nature for his amazing leaps and bounds that are constantly the talk of the town, which has made him the toast of the town.

“Definitely, by nature, Tony has a very competitive personality,” Jenna said. “When he was younger, he always wanted to play with his older brothers. He wanted to play with the big guys. Fortunately, he was able to be involved most of the time because he was considerably younger than his brothers.”

And before the Iowa run that left every fan wondering, “was that in the playbook?” as they took their collective sighs of relief and caught their breaths, Gonzalez proved once again that every guy has his moment when he collected a career-high eight catches for 142 yards and a touchdown against Texas.

Jenna also described Anthony as that “perfect little brother,” who never tattled or said much in his desire to hang with the big boys. Gonzalez just wanted to play and because of his talent, the older children in the neighborhood allowed Anthony to hone his skills in the backyard, never quite prepared to believe where all that practice would lead the youngest Gonzalez son.

“I was always trying, not really to fit in, but trying to play with my brothers’ friends in sports,” Gonzalez said. “We had a pretty big backyard when I was really little and we always use to play baseball back there. Everyday we would play baseball in the fall and in the winter we would play football and I was always trying to get in with them. Sometimes they wouldn’t let me, but actually, I think they helped toughen me up when I was young because they didn’t really let me get away with anything.”

Another childhood moment that forced Gonzalez to hold his own? He began wrestling when he was 4 years old, but he was not exactly taking on those within his age group, let alone his weight class. With the guidance of his father, Eduardo Gonzalez, Anthony wrestled up at least one age group and weight class.

Every hero has to get his start in modest, yet tough beginnings.

And Gonzalez’s beginnings included developing an early appreciation and love of his Cuban heritage.

“It was very important for all our children to embrace their culture,” Jenna said. “Obviously my husband and I thought it was important. I am actually of German descent, but I have always had a fascination for the culture. I speak Spanish and I teach Spanish, so it was an easy transition.”

A part of the Gonzalez family tradition is their annual family reunions in Miami during Easter. In 1996, Anthony’s grandparents on his father’s side moved to Miami after living in Avon Lake, Ohio, for about 10 years. Unfortunately, Jose Gonzalez, Eduardo’s father, became ill and the Gonzalez family traveled to the southern tip of Florida in April of 1996 to visit the ailing Jose. It was in June of that year Jose passed away, but the family thought making the yearly visit to Miami to spend time with Anthony’s grandmother and other family members was something they would like to continue. So for nearly 10 years, a gathering of 50 or more family, extended family and friends come together to enjoy a gala of Cuban tradition.

“It’s a big Cuban celebration with all Cuban food,” Gonzalez said. “We always have a pig roast with black beans and rice. We also have yuca, which is a potato dish and flan, which is one of my favorite deserts. On top of the food, there is a lot of Latin music. It’s just a big celebration. It’s something I always look forward to. It really is the highlight of my year because everybody is there.”

The highlight of Gonzalez’s year is not the spectacular catches or the game-breaking plays, but the time he spends with his family and closest friends. That is not to say Ohio State football is not important to Gonzalez because it is. It is just that he would prefer to handle his business on the field and leave it at that. Modest and private, that sums up a guy who quickly credits his teammates before his own talents.

“I’m the type of person who plays football because I love football,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t play football for the notoriety or the fame or anything like that. I just play because I love the game. I’m kind of a quiet person and I prefer privacy over the notoriety. The attention, it’s not bad in any way, it’s just being the shy person that I am, it makes me a little uncomfortable I guess.”

Perhaps that is why no matter how much Gonzalez shies away from the camera or the questions, he always will be a fan favorite. Of course, much of that has to do with his talent and skill on the field, but there is something to be said when the camera is always chasing him while his stories are told time and time again. Why? Some may ask. Well, because like all fairytales, he is a timeless classic.