PULLMAN – All David Gonzales wanted to do as a kid was emulate his pop on the football field. Get out there on weekends and throw his body around. Be a player just like his dad had been.
But it didn’t happen.
Every other Friday Gonzales packed his bags in his mom’s Fresno, Calif., home and headed out to meet Dad. And every other Friday Dad would pick him up and drive up Highway 99 past Turlock, past Manteca, past Lodi, all the way to Sacramento.
The nearly 3-hour drive necessitated by a visitation agreement – Gonzales’ parents had divorced when he was 2 – meant weekend sports were out. Most important, football was out.
Finally, going into his junior year at Fresno’s Central West High, Gonzales spoke up.
“I finally told him, he got to play so I want to play,” Gonzales said.
His dad agreed.
Six years later David Gonzales anchors Washington State’s offensive line, a group that has helped the Cougars rank 13th in the nation in scoring, averaging 40.6 points a game.
The story of how a skinny high school junior with no experience turned into a 6-foot-6, 295-pound left tackle with NFL aspirations may not be “Blind Side,” but it has its own interesting plot.
Gonzales came to Washington State in the spring of 2010, hoping to redshirt, putting on strength and weight for the rigors of the Pac-12.
“It might be a good idea because I was undersized,” he said of sitting a year. “But I was able to win my position, win a starting spot.”
No one would have seen that coming back in high school. After playing defensive line on the junior varsity his first year, Gonzales worked his way into a starting spot on both sides of the ball as a senior.
But though he was 6-6 and athletic, he weighed 220 pounds – not a prototypical college offensive lineman.
There were hints of scholarships but no offers until late, when a Sacramento State coach took a leap. By then Gonzales had decided he would stay close to home and head to Fresno City College with the hope two years of maturity would entice a big-time school. That didn’t go over well with the Sac State coach.
“He told me that if I went to a JC, I wouldn’t get picked up and I would be wasting my football career,” Gonzales said, a hint of disgust still evident.
At Fresno City, Gonzales put on weight, learned techniques, got better.
“I didn’t know how to pass set until my first year there at the JC,” he said, which might explain why Gonzales did not start as a freshman. “I picked it up pretty quick. My second year, I tried to do as much listening to my O-line coach as possible to try to get better.”
Washington State’s Todd Sturdy, who recruits California’s Central Valley, saw the 260-pound version. The Cougars offered. Gonzales accepted.
“I wish we would have had him out of high school,” WSU coach Paul Wulff said. “He’s done a heck of job since he’s been here getting himself bigger, stronger. But he’s only been here a year-and-a-half, and that’s not very long.”
Wulff and WSU had Gonzales last season, for six complete games.
Despite the lack of experience, Gonzales started from Week 1 in Stillwater, Okla., and was, according to line coach Steve Morton, improving every week. Until Arizona came to town in Week 7.
Early in the game, UA defensive end Brooks Reed exploded to the outside. Expecting help, Gonzales started to let him go. But the help wasn’t there, so Gonzales locked up Reed with his hands.
That’s when running back James Montgomery came to help, but from the inside and not the outside, where Gonzales expected it.
“(James) put his head in the middle of Reed’s chest, and that’s where my arm was,” Gonzales said. “There was no give in my elbow, shoulder, nothing. It was straight in the middle of the forearm.
“I watched him as he hit it and it just flattened out on the dude’s chest. I looked at my arm and it kind of did a little Z, where it came down, dropped and kept going.”
As Gonzales held his left arm to his side and jogged to the sidelines, he knew his season was over. His forearm was snapped in two. Surgery was scheduled and two plates installed, held in by 12 screws.
A roadblock had been thrown in front of his NFL dream.
In his postseason evaluation, Morton told Gonzales he had to get stronger and improve his footwork. With the strength part on hold as his arm healed, Gonzales hit the ladders – a foot drill – with a vengeance.
“Overall, it definitely helped me overcome some things,” Gonzales said of the injury, explaining how he had to focus more throughout his offseason drills to compensate for the lack of arm strength.
The arm quit hurting in February and the weight lifting increased. Going into this season, it was obvious Gonzales, still only 20 years old, was stronger and quicker. The mental part of the position needed little to no work.
“He’s 50 percent better than he was when he got here,” Morton said.
With seven games remaining in his college career, Gonzales doesn’t want to think or talk about his professional prospects. It’s obvious he wants to take the next step, but that focus Morton was alluding to keeps him from anticipating it.
But Morton, who has been coaching collegiate offensive linemen for almost four decades, has no such limitations.
“He’s a guy the pro scouts are going to look at, and he’s the one they earn their money on,” he said.
For Gonzales’ part, he knows if he can get in a room with an NFL guy, he’ll be able to sell himself.
“It’s been the story of my life that I tend to surprise people when I am overlooked,” he said.