When Johnny Gonzalez showed up for the first practice on Jan. 5 in preparation for the 33rd Annual Central Coast All-Star Football game, he thought it was going to be a walk-through. Of course, when you put a bunch of competitive high school football players on the same field, chances are things will get intense.
And that’s exactly what happened.
“It turned out to be a full-on scrimmage,” said Gonzalez, who was one of four San Benito High players—Gio Giannotta, Eugene McBride and Daniel Pasillas were the others—selected to play in the game on Friday at Rabobank Stadium in Salinas. “When you have the best players in the area, everyone is trying to make a name for themselves. We scrimmaged each other all day, and it was a full contact practice.”
Gonzalez sounded plenty excited to play in Friday’s game, which features soon-to-be graduating players from South Santa Clara, San Benito, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. For one last time in high school, Gonzalez and his teammates get to play in an organized game at a sparkling facility.
“That practice was really fun and a great day,” he said. “I got to know a couple of other players, which made it more fun. Every practice is like a new game.”
Gonzalez played running back during his senior season, but he’ll be playing wide receiver for the All-Star Game. He’s had nothing but fun practicing as a receiver.
“I met the Salinas QB and the Monte Vista (Christian) QB, and it’s whole different offense than what I was used to at Hollister,” Gonzalez said. “(For the All-Star team) we’re a spread team playing a zone concept (offense), so being 6-foot-2 in a zone concept is not really the best thing for me. At first I didn’t pick up routes right away, but the coaches helped me out and spent a lot of time helping me run them. It was really a lot of fun, and I wished Hollister passed the ball a little more.”
Because Gonzalez hadn’t played in nearly two months, his body felt like it had been in a minor accident the day after.
“My calves were really sore, I had a little bit of a headache and a neck strain,” he said. “After that first practice, we realized we were a bit out of shape because we hadn’t played in so long. But I feel good right now and getting back into it. It’s just really great playing with the guys again.”
The Central Coast is one of the longest running high school football All-Star games in the Bay Area, and both teams are playing for charities. Gilroy High coach Jubenal Rodriguez will lead a team that is playing for the National Football Foundation, while Salinas’ Steven Zenk leads a squad that includes players from San Benito, Salinas, Alvarez, Palma, Carmel, Gonzales, Marina, North Monterey County, North Salinas and Stevenson.
Zank’s team will play for a charity called Operation Giveback. Both teams will practice for three consecutive days leading up to Friday’s game, which kicks off at 7 p.m. Gonzalez said it was great to see some of the players on the Salinas team that won a CCS Open Division I championship this past season.
“It was good to see a team from the area win the title,” he said. “We’re rivals on the field, but once you get to meet and talk with them more, I like the guys from Salinas.”
Even though it’s an exhibition game, the players are taking the contest seriously. There are 35 players on each team, meaning competition is stiff for the starting positions.
“We’re about proving ourselves in practice,” Gonzalez said. “The coaches are going to play the best guys, and everyone is well trained and honed in. It should be a real great experience.”