At long last, Gonzalez finds a home at Pitt
Settled down, grown up and eager to please, Anthony Gonzalez has found a home at outside linebacker, his fourth position since he arrived at Pitt three years ago.
“It's a good spot for him,” coach Paul Chryst said. “I think it fits him.” He's also found peace off the field after a 2011 arrest for marijuana possession in his hometown of Bethlehem and two suspensions that cost him three games.
“My mom told me to get my stuff together,” he said after the fourth day of Pitt's spring drills Tuesday. “And I definitely have.”
The maturation of Gonzalez, who will be a redshirt junior this fall, has progressed to where he is starting at the strong-side linebacker spot and even moving inside and calling alignments on long-yardage situations. Actually, his position is a hybrid of linebacker and safety, one that will become especially important, he said, with the proliferation of spread offenses in the ACC.
Defensive coordinator Matt House is reluctant to throw out too many platitudes so early in the spring, but he likes what he has seen from Gonzalez.
“He's learning. He's got a long way to go, but he's really willing,” House said. “He's a willing hitter. He's got potential to be a real good football player.” Gonzalez was a quarterback at Bethlehem Liberty High, leading his team that included Pitt receiver Devin Street to a PIAA Class AAAA championship in 2008, his junior year. He put his versatility on display in the title game against Bethel Park, rushing for 205 yards and three touchdowns, throwing for a score and intercepting a pass in the end zone to lock down the victory in overtime.
“Sealed the deal,” he said, smiling proudly.
Former Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt recruited him to play quarterback but thought about moving him to defense after his 2010 redshirt season. When Wannstedt was fired, new coach Todd Graham kept Gonzalez at quarterback, even expanding his role into the wildcat, from which he rushed for a touchdown in the 2011 regular-season finale.
Chryst made him a safety last season and, finally, a linebacker when injuries depleted the depth chart late in the season. He started against Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl and recorded a sack. This spring, he swapped positions with Eric Williams, who started 11 games at linebacker last season and is now a free safety.
“It's been frustrating, but you just have to do whatever's best for the team,” said Gonzalez, who also played tight end for Graham. “Keep my mind right and go attack it.”
Gonzalez said he prefers defense now, but he did want to play quarterback.
“But after that didn't work out, I was hoping safety would work out, and they put me at linebacker and I'm ready to go. As of right now, it's home. I'm on first team, and I just have to keep working hard. I just love football, so wherever I can play, that's what I'm going to do.”
The football aspect of life may come easier for him now that he said he has learned to avoid trouble off the field.
“I have definitely grown up a lot,” he said. “I am keeping myself away from all that stuff, just being positive and having the right mindset. I finally think I've got that. I think I have a good head on my shoulders right now.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.
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