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Pirate
Time
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No. 41
(2009)

With Ron Cherubini
©2001-2009 Bonesville.net

 

A True Student Athlete: Standout QB Stands Out After Football - By Day, Dan Gonzalez is a Banking Exec; by Night, a Teacher on the Gridiron

By Ron Cherubini
©2009 Bonesville.net

(Photos not otherwise attributed are
courtesy of ECU Athletic Media Relations.)

Of all of former East Carolina coach Steve Logan’s protégés, none seems more similar to the coach himself than Dan Gonzalez. Cerebral… patient… quiet… hard working… a consummate leader. Save for a logjam at quarterback, Gonzalez might have gone down as another of ECU’s prolific signal callers. Regardless, he took with him in life the foundation elements for success and has applied them adroitly in the years following football.

Though Gonzalez only fully had the reigns of the ECU offense for a season, his command of Logan’s philosophies and his ability to execute the scheme as designed makes you wonder what might have been had the quarterback from Neptune, NJ, had two or three years under center.

Despite spending his senior season behind a youthful and inexperienced offensive line, he piled up passing yards and proved that was as good as they come. His efforts yielded him a season in the NFL (starting with the Cowboys and culminating with a playoff game with the Dolphins and a season on allocation to NFL Europe), a couple more in the CFL (with Montreal) and an understanding of what it takes to be successful not only in football, but more so in life. Today, a successful commercial banker by day, Gonzalez dedicates the balance of his available time imparting – much like his former coach – all the knowledge he can about playing football and being an effective quarterback to his offensive players at Indian River High School in Chesapeake, VA.

“You know, originally, I was going to go into education,” Gonzalez said, “and now, I guess I am sort of doing that anyways.”

Indeed, when he chose the Pirates, he was intent on becoming a teacher. Instead, he chose to pursue an education in business, knocking out his undergraduate degree in three years and polishing off his MBA over the next two. And he flexes that education every day at work, working for Monarch Bank in Chesapeake. But it was the other education he received, the one he gained from being immersed in ECU’s offense under Logan, that he still uses today on the football field working with young kids, many of whom have the same dreams he had growing up on military bases around the country and while at Neptune High School in New Jersey.

“Work is great and I work for a great organization and get to deal with and help a lot of people,” Gonzalez said. “But, coaching at Indian River – where I have been for five years now – is something that I absolutely love. It is a blast and I wouldn’t trade being a part of that coaching staff for anything.

“For me, the biggest role I get to play in football is to connect with the players, which is what I experienced as a player in college. Indian River is located in a tough, tough community and a lot of these kids need support in life, not just football. I try to keep that in mind and be that type of person, not just coach, for these guys, so I guess I am trying in some ways to educate.”

It makes sense that Gonzalez would gravitate back to football as it had been part of his life from his earliest venture into sports.

Always a Quarterback

Unlike many athletes who go on to play college and pro football, Gonzalez didn’t sort of eventually meander to a position on the football field. Starting in Pop Warner football when his father Gilberto was stationed in Augusta, GA, he was always the quarterback.

“I started playing football when I was seven years old, so I guess I started pretty early in childhood,” Gonzalez said. “My father was in the ... Army and we moved around some. At the time, we were in Georgia, and my older brother (Gilberto, Jr.), who is five years older than me, had been playing football already and, of course, if he was playing, I wanted to play. That is where I first took interest in playing football and just kept on it.”

Though his father didn’t play football growing up, he had a strong appreciation for organized athletics and was the biggest influence in the Gonzalez boys’ sports lives, which made it easier for Gonzalez to pour himself into the game.

“Sports weren’t my father’s thing,” Gonzalez recalled of the man he calls his greatest influence. “But he was always there for me; he came out to everything and encouraged me.”

His father and mother, Irma, were also very much academics-first in their encouragement for their two boys.

So, Gonzalez started early on honing the two biggest requirements for becoming a good quarterback: the ability to learn and the athleticism to execute what you have learned. Gonzalez' skills, apparent early on in his development, were leveraged by a large does of fierce competitiveness, firming up a solid foundation pretty quickly.

“I have always been a really competitive person, so sports were always an outlet to experience that part of life,” Gonzalez said. “I played baseball, too, but football took the majority of my time.”

By the time his family moved to New Jersey, Gonzalez had gotten to be pretty good at his position and was validated as such when, as a sophomore, he took the helm of the varsity offense at Neptune High School.

“Neptune has always had a really good football tradition,” he said. “I really didn’t know what to expect going into high school. Growing up, one thing you learn quickly about playing quarterback is that you have to be able to throw the football and you have to be smart, and I kind of felt like I had those two things going for me.

“I got in there and was somewhat successful at it but I would never have been considered the star at Neptune.”

No, that designation fell to a running back one year Gonzalez’s junior. In what turned out to be a stroke of luck for East Carolina and a rare opportunity for Gonzalez, his backfield mate at Neptune, Scott Harley, ended up being his backfield mate throughout nearly his entire football career.

“Scott, not doubt, kind of stole the show there as he was a really talented guy early,” Gonzalez said. “I started for the varsity as a sophomore and we had a really good season and got to the playoffs. We lost in the first round but to get there was a big accomplishment for me as a sophomore and a first-year starter. I guess it was that point when I started thinking, ‘Hey, if I keep at this and get better at it over the next two years, I may have a chance to do this in (college).’”

As good leaders do, Gonzalez quickly points out that it is others that deserve the credit for his team's and even partly his own successes as part of the team.

“I was lucky enough to play in the same backfield with (Harley),” Gonzalez. “That was a special thing having started out together with Scott and then finishing up together down at East Carolina.”

Ultimately, it was Gonzalez who opened up ECU’s channel to signing Harley, who at the time was one of those players that in the past would not have bothered to return a call from ECU. But, with a friend in Gonzalez, the Pirates got access to Harley and his visit to Greenville sealed the deal.

Though Harley was a bonafide blue chipper at Neptune and there were games when the team didn’t attempt a pass at all, Gonzalez was no slouch.

“There were occasions when we needed to win throwing the ball and I was able to do that,” he said. He led Neptune to playoff appearances as a sophomore and senior and was receiving good attention from reputable football programs.

“My senior year, there were a lot of schools on the East Coast that were recruiting me, some Division I and some Division 1-AA schools like William & Mary,” he said. “Maryland, Rutgers, East Carolina, Boston University… schools like that were expressing interest.

“Being from New Jersey, my first choice was Rutgers… I wanted to stay in-state. They had a very good school and the football program was up-and-coming. I had good grades in high school and I wanted to go to a good school where I could get a good education.”

Still, he was well aware of East Carolina and was curious.

“My exposure to ECU was the summer my senior year,” Gonzalez recounted. “One of the graduate assistants there at the time got me on the phone and said, ‘Hey, we are interested in you from what we have seen on film and are going to keep our eye on you. We hope you are interested in ECU.’ That was the year that I think Jeff (Blake) was a senior and I was seeing them on ESPN all the time, so I definitely wanted to hear what ECU had to say for sure.”

ECU followed up on that interest later, sending a coach to Neptune for a visit.

“I think it was the linebackers’ coach who had the New Jersey area,” Gonzalez said. “‘Hey, we really like you and would like you to come on a visit.’ At the time, I was still very interested in Rutgers.”

Rutgers was interested in Gonzalez, too, and had him pegged as their No. 2 desired quarterback.

“Rutgers was recruiting another quarterback and they told me, ‘We’re looking at another quarterback and are going to offer him first and want to see what he says.’ I said, ‘Ok… that’s fine, but I am going to go down to Greenville on a visit.’

“So, I visited and really kind of fell in love with the coaches and the school. I was excited about the program and what they were doing and as a quarterback you want to go somewhere where they are throwing the ball around and they were doing a lot of that and really well. It was very attractive to me and they were playing really, really good competition at the time and were on television quite a bit, pretty much playing a Big East schedule.”

Academically, ECU made equal sense to Gonzalez.

“At the time I was thinking about going into education so it seemed like a good fit all the way around,” he said. “So that is how it happened. I accepted the scholarship offer on my visit and a week later Rutgers came crawling back and said, ‘No… we really want you to come to school here.’ It was too late and I never looked back.

By the time Coach Logan arrived at his house, he was already committed to the Pirates and Logan’s charm and approach to recruiting only made things that much more comfortable for the Gonzalez family.

Quarterback in Wait

One of the very things that endeared Gonzalez to his new coach also somewhat sealed his fate at ECU and shaped his understanding of what a coach should be.

“East Carolina is one of the best decisions I ever made,” he said. “When you are in high school having to choose where you are going to go, it is hard to make that decision because you really don’t know these coaches until a couple of years have gone by, but I felt very comfortable with Coach Logan. Playing quarterback for Logan means he is also your position coach and the coach you spend most of your time with.

“Getting to be around him and spend a lot of time with him, you take in his coaching style and philosophy. For me, being around him for five years was really a blessing. Steve cares a lot about his players and he puts so much time into his quarterbacks and will give you as much as you can absorb. He is so respected really at all levels of football as an offensive mind and is very supportive of his quarterbacks. He wanted his quarterbacks to work through tough times, too, so as a backup, if the starter is struggling, you still might not get to play.”

That kind of relationship can also have its downside, particularly when there is another quarterback there like Marcus Crandell.

“Yeah, for me, that really kinda sucked,” Gonzalez laughed. “Marcus being there... Marc and I were really close, but he made getting on the field pretty tough because he was so good.”

Gonzalez said that Logan earned his pay in the way he mentally prepared his quarterbacks to be primed and even-keeled even when the likelihood they would play was remote.

“Starting quarterbacks get a lot of work, so I only really got work in spring just in case something was to happen down the road,” he said. “So, I got what I could and my preparation was mostly mental. Up to that point, learning from watching and taking in everything you could handle from Steve, so when my turn came I was ready to start learning on the job.”

Since it took a couple of years for a quarterback to really get Logan’s offense fully, Gonzalez expected and was quite frankly relieved to have a redshirt season. He knew he could settle in and learn the offense. He almost found himself pressed into the active roster that first season in 1993.

“I was a backup that year because Marc broke his leg,” he said. “But I was able to use the redshirt that season so my first active roster season was in 1994. Marc also was injured in 1996, which led to me getting my first start.”

For a young quarterback with little game experience, his first start was truly a test under fire. On a snowy and icy November night in Blacksburg, VA, Gonzalez stepped into the starting role in place of the injured Crandell, and made a name for himself among the Pirate fateful. The Pirates were not supposed to be in that game, but thanks to a 74-yard hookup with Larry Shannon that cut the Hokies lead to 14-7 going into half-time, the Pirates stunned a national television audience. Though the Hokies scored two late touchdowns in the fourth quarter to win 35-14, Gonzalez played very well and served notice that the future of the position was in good hands. On that night, in his debut, Gonzalez threw for a pair of touchdowns and 268 yards against the eventual Big East Champions.

“I remember they were ranked, it was an ESPN game and we get off the bus and it is snowing… the field was white… and I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?” Gonzalez said. “It was a tough place to play but I eventually settled down.”

Gonzalez finished out the 1996 season with three wins, culminating in a complete thrashing of rival North Carolina State (50-29) in Charlotte. Along the way, in just his second start, Gonzalez carved up Ohio University for 383 yards, etching his name in the ECU record books with currently the 4th best single-game passing total in Pirates history. And he did it again the following week against Memphis when he notched the 11th best single-game mark.

More than validating to himself that he could start for the Pirates, his polishing off the 8-3 campaign in his junior year erased any doubts in anyone’s mind who the starting quarterback would be in 1997.

Though he would have scripted a different season in 1997 – the Pirates managed a 5-6 record behind a green offensive line and against a schedule that included games against West Virginia, Wake Forest, South Carolina, Southern Miss, and N.C. State – there was no question that Gonzalez was a quality quarterback.

“Going into my senior year there was not a question who the starting quarterback would be after getting the chance to fill in for Marc, and I welcomed that situation,” Gonzalez said. “It was a lot of fun playing with the guys I came in with (recruiting class). It was a blast. We had a lot of high expectations following Scott’s 1,800-yard season in ’96, but it was clear right away that he wouldn’t be able to do it again… we had such a young offensive line – guys who went on to be very good linemen – and were inexperienced. It made things tough for Scott, who took a lot (of criticism). He was running hard; there just weren’t any holes there. We ended up having to the throw the ball a lot more than we really wanted to that season.”

By the end of his senior season, he had passed for a career total 3,868 yards with a near 57% completion rate with 23 touchdowns.

“I guess it did surprise me that I had the passing success I had there,” Gonzalez said. “I pretty much sat the bench till my fourth year and you really don’t know until you get there how things are going to go. I got to play with a lot of talent my junior year and there was no pressure on me that season.

“And my senior season also worked out well for me. I was fortunate to get a chance to play with and benefited from having really good receivers, guys like Larry Shannon, Mitchell Galloway, Jason Nichols, Troy Smith, Linwood Debrew… I could go on and on. It made it easy on me because all I had to do was get the ball close to any of those guys and they would make the play. It kind of makes the (passing numbers) a bonus (in his career).”

Ready for the Future

Chief among Gonzalez’s skills was intelligence. With the same vigor he pursued understanding Logan’s offense; he likewise attacked the academic opportunities at ECU.

“Football is full-time and most players are on campus in the summers and Coach Logan knew how very, very important my education was for (me) so he was very supportive (of how aggressive Gonzalez was in the classroom),” he said. “I was fortunate enough to get my undergraduate degree in three years and was able to complete my graduate degree when I was a senior on the football field.”

He had all the academic credentials needed to sail right into corporate America so Gonzalez felt less pressure to make football a career. Still, with the success he had as a senior at ECU, he wanted to give it a shot.

“Going into my senior year, I knew there might be some interest and opportunities to play at the next level,” he said. “Of course, I wish my senior year had gone a little better (record-wise) but things happen for a reason and I made the most of it. I was fortunate enough to go to camp with the Dallas Cowboys in 1998 and that was a dream come true… you grow up dreaming of the NFL and I had a real chance. In Dallas, I didn’t make the best of it but did get another opportunity that year in Miami (with the Dolphins.)”

Though his career in the NFL would last only a partial season with the Dolphins – where he got to dress for a playoff game against the Denver Broncos – and a season in Amsterdam in the NFL Europe league, where he was allocated by the Dolphins, it was an experience he relishes.

“It was really nice to be a part of that… to be on an NFL roster,” he said. “It didn’t last as long as I would like but I had the opportunity and it was a lot of fun.”

In 1999, he had not given up on hopes of a return to the NFL and figured his best shot to do so would be through the Canadian Football League.

“I knew to make it back into the NFL, I needed to be playing,” he explained. “Marc has been up there and was having success, so I went there and played. I didn’t want to have any regrets so I gave it all I could and did my best, playing two seasons in Montreal.”

Gonzalez could have continued to bounce around, but he always intended to put his degrees to work.

“I had given it a shot and had fun with it,” he said. “Traveling back and forth during the season is tough and the business side of things can make playing ball not as fun as it could be. I was fortunate to have the time that I did.”

It didn’t take long for Gonzalez to start his new life. In fact, it was an ECU alumnus and fan of his that approached him.

“A man named Neal Crawford, who was in the Hampton Roads area working for BB&T at the time, said to me, ‘Hey, I know a little bit about you and I know you have your MBA. (Banking) is something you should consider when you are done playing because I think you would be a good fit for it,’” Gonzalez recalled. “So, that got things started and I liked what he was describing to me. I didn’t know at the time because I didn’t have the experience and then got introduced into the world of commercial banking, which is what I do now at Monarch and have been doing it for about six years now.”

Highly successful at his work, Gonzalez still relies on football to fully fulfill himself. He is a big Pirates football fan and is up on the program.

“I absolutely follow ECU,” he said. “Two guys I played with are on the staff (Junior Smith and Dwayne Ledford). Coach (Steve) Shank(weiler) is in charge of recruiting in this area and I talk to him about some of our players. I have been down to ECU quite a few times. They are doing a great job there.”


Dan Gonzalez is still on the field coaching football at
Indian River High School in Virginia. (Submitted photo)

But you won’t see him at too many Pirates games. Not because he doesn’t want to be there, but because he is so dedicated to his own team at Indian River that he has to settle for catching the Pirates on television.

“It is so tough to get down there during (prep) football season,” he said. “We have games and then review film and preparation… it takes up all the time. But I do manage to get down to ECU for a game when I can. My years at ECU were great years for me.”

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Dan Gonzalez Bio Box
Dan GonzalezName:

Dan Gonzalez

Sport:

Football
.

Years Played at East Carolina:

1994-97
.

Position/No.:

Quarterback, No. 9
 

Hometown:

Neptune, NJ
.

Currently Resides:

Chesapeake, VA
 

Occupation:

Vice President, Commercial Banking
 

Education:
  • BA, East Carolina University

  • MBA, East Carolina University

Marital Status:

Single
 

Children:
 

N/A
 

Quotable:

When I was recruited, all the New Jersey talent was leaving New Jersey. It was a big deal because all of the athletes were going to Penn State, Boston College, Syracuse, you name it. For whatever reason, everyone was getting away. Rutgers has started to keep the guys home now. I wanted to stay home but it worked out best for me (at ECU). I do remember my senior year at ECU, the Rutgers coach (Doug Graber who passed on Gonzalez) had been fired. He and Coach Logan were friends and my senior year, he came down to visit Steve and came to our practice. Of course I remembered him and he came over to me and said, ‘You were one of the worst (recruiting) mistakes I made up there.’ Even though there was no place I would rather be than ECU at the time, it felt pretty good to hear that.”

 
 

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04/15/2009 02:50:50 AM

 

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