Balers senior Jonathan Gonzalez breaks free for a 74-yard TD run in last week's loss to Aptos. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Jonny Gonzalez was a sophomore starting fullback two years ago when a serious infection, trench mouth, forced him to miss two games—along with his starting position.

“I was devastated because I had never not started before (at any level),” the San Benito High senior running back said. “I decided I wasn’t going to just sit there, so I looked at opportunities to play elsewhere.”

That opportunity came at linebacker, where a couple of key injuries at that position—along with hard work—helped pave the way for Gonzalez to seize a starting spot on the defense, something he carried through the team’s two playoff games.

“Losing my starting position made me think there will always be somebody who wants your job,” Gonzalez said. “To this day I’m seeing I’m not invincible and I have to give my all on every play because you never know when it’ll be your last.”

That pretty much sums up the keys of success for Gonzalez, who will never be mistaken for looking the part. At 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds, Gonzalez resembles more of a basketball player than a football player, even when he gets in his stance in the backfield.

However, Gonzalez runs with such tenacity and vigor that he breaks several tackles in every game, and in those moments there is no doubt he is a gridiron warrior. Gonzalez has rushed for a team-high 645 yards and six touchdowns on 110 carries.

In a 35-12 loss to Aptos last Friday, Gonzalez had runs of 50 and 73 yards, two of the many memorable moments in his individual highlight-reel this season. On the 50-yard run, the Haybalers (5-3 overall, 3-2 MBL Gabilan) executed a fake so well that the referees initially didn’t notice Gonzalez had the ball.

Aptos actually tackled Gonzalez, but when Gonzalez didn’t hear a whistle, he did what any good running back would’ve done—he kept running.

“The other team was obviously mad about that because I was down,” he said. “But apparently the fakes were so good they weren’t looking at me at first.”

Gonzalez said his 73-yard touchdown run was the perfect glimpse into why he credits his teammates for any big run he produces. Gonzalez ran behind the left side of the offensive line, fullback Joe DeMaggio had a great kickout block and lineman Aiden Pung and tight end Gio Giannotta helped spring Gonzalez to the end zone.

Gonzalez also pointed to the efforts of Daniel Pasillas, Blaze McShane, Diego Ramirez, Nate Sanchez, Jesus Toscano and Matt Hernandez as playing pivotal roles in opening up running lanes. Gonzalez never lacks for motivation because he knows his family members are his biggest fans.

Gonzalez spent plenty of time with his dad, Saul Gonzalez Jr., growing up playing a variety of sports. Even when Gonzalez was all of 5 years old, he said his dad never took it easy on him.

“He made me work for everything I had,” Gonzalez said. “We played catch all the time, and he would throw me the ball as if I was a grown man. He said Gonzalez kids aren’t kids—just small men.”

Saul had his son play basketball to build stamina while also having him compete in wrestling to learn a double leg takedown for the purpose of transferring that skill to tackling.

“Everything I did, he taught me for football,” Gonzalez said. “He’s been raising me my whole life to prepare me for this. The reason I’m here is because my parents have been fully supportive of everything I’ve done, and for that I’m grateful.”

Gonzalez’s mom, Karen, has played a huge role in shaping Gonzalez’s focus and makeup.

“My mom gets my motor running because she’s a real motivational talker,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez has two younger brothers, and he knows it’s important for him to set a good example.

“My dad always told me I have to set the bar high for them,” he said. “All of my actions are going to have a reactive effect with them. If I mess up or do something stupid, they’ll see it and might repeat it when they’re older. But if I keep continuing to do good life-wise, grade-wise and treating people well, that will have a positive effect on them.”

Balers coach Bryan Smith has been effusive in his praise for Gonzalez, calling him a consummate professional. Gonzalez grew up at Andy Hardin Stadium, having played Pop Warner and flag football there. Friday’s contest against North Salinas is the last regular-season game at Andy Hardin Stadium—and possibly ever—if the Balers don’t end up hosting a playoff game.

Construction for the new athletic facilities is expected to start within the next year.

“When you think of home, that stadium is one of the places I think about,” Gonzalez said. “I know every inch on that field: the potholes, the bumps, the dirt patches. But there’s nothing like playing on grass, and there’s nothing like that stadium. I’ll always have a certain attachment to that place.”

Gonzalez credits the love he’s felt from his parents as critical for his development.

“I play for them,” Gonzalez said. “I want to make them proud.”

Gonzalez has done just that.

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Emanuel Lee primarily covers sports for Weeklys/NewSVMedia's Los Gatan publication. Twenty years of journalism experience and recipient of several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. Emanuel has run eight marathons with a PR of 3:13.40, counts himself as a true disciple of Jesus Christ and loves spending time with his wife and their two lovely daughters, Evangeline and Eliza.


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