Gonzalez Expects To Get Even Better This Spring

Although he only caught eight passes last season, Tony Gonzalez is maturing into a quality reciever and he hopes to hone his skills even further during the course of the team's spring drills. His touchdown catch against Michigan last season went a long way toward raising his confidence level and his expectations for himself this spring.

If the last three games of his redshirt freshman season are any indication of things to come, then Tony Gonzalez could be the next best thing to happen to Ohio State's offensive fortunes since, well, Ted Ginn Jr.

In game 10 at Purdue, Gonzalez helped jumpstart the Buckeye offense with a 38-yard reception from Troy Smith. A week later against Michigan at home in the ‘Shoe, Gonzalez got the fireworks started on offense when he scored the game's first points on a 68-yard catch and run from Smith on the very first drive of the contest. And in the Alamo Bowl victory against Oklahoma State, Gonzalez scored the game's first points when he hauled in a first-quarter touchdown pass covering 23 yards from Justin Zwick.

On the season however, Gonzalez, one of the fastest guys on the team, caught just eight passes but he scored two touchdowns and averaged 22.4 yards per reception.

But the electrifying touchdown catch against Michigan in Ohio Stadium is something that careers are made of at Ohio State and it's something that Gonzalez will forever be remembered for in the hallowed annals of OSU football.

"It is a little crazy because I only caught the ball eight times last year," he said. "But it's amazing. You don't really realize how much that game means to people until it's over and you've gone through it. And I think that's a great thing."

But even up to that point when he became an instant hero to all Buckeye fans, Gonzalez steadfastly believed that he was making significant progress in his brief career as a Buckeye and he was poised to take advantage an opportunity like he did in the Michigan game.

"Definitely, besides the very first week of my true-freshman year, there never really was too much doubt in my mind that I could contribute," Gonzalez said. "And that was always my goal, to contribute to the team and not necessarily individually, just however I could. And it was nice to get on the field and yeah I definitely felt like I was moving forward a little bit and got to where I was going."

And success breeds confidence.

"I'm very confident. And we've got great players all around me so it's not like I feel burdened (to have to make big plays) or anything like that," Gonzalez said. "But confidence is certainly where it needs to be and that's key for me personally. Whenever I struggle it's usually with confidence but right now I feel very confident."

As the third receiver in OSU's offense this year, Gonzalez is likely to give every secondary match-up problems with the kind of speed he can motor around with in the secondary. Santonio Holmes and Ginn will command the most attention from opposing defensive coordinators.

"I just have to show up and wait for everybody to pay attention to them," Gonzalez said. "I think our receivers are going to be one of the better units in the country, hopefully, and that benefits everybody. It's going to be really exciting. I personally have never been this excited for a football season in my life."

Gonzalez is starting to get use to his new-found "celebrity" status that's only bound to intensify over the next few seasons with the rabid fans at Ohio State.

"(The fans are) great. They're nuts. In a good way," he said. "Yeah it's crazy. Like I said, I caught eight balls and it seems like more people know who I am than ever before. I don't know if ‘celebrity' is the right term but it's not bad."

But Gonzalez is not about to let himself or the team for that matter rest on their laurels now, even though it's only spring drills.

"You work out hard all winter long and then you get the chance to come out here and practice with your buddies. It's great," he said. "We want to start where we finished last year and build day by day."

On an individual basis, Gonzalez is looking at spring practice as a opportunity to become an even better receiver by the start of the next campaign.

"Personally I would like to just stay healthy. Last spring I did not stay healthy and it cost me. I didn't progress nearly as far as I wanted to," said Gonzalez, who certainly knows that he won't be able to sneak up on anybody next season. "So this year it's all about staying healthy and just learning and keep building on what I'm doing. And I have my own personal goals; don't drop any balls and never be late to anything, that sort of thing, and just build on those."

Overall, Gonzalez believes that he has come a very long way in a relatively short period of time in terms of maturity as a football player at Ohio State.

"If you'd have asked me how I felt three days after I got here, I would have told you that I wanted to leave," he said. "But I would say that I've matured quite a bit and I've had great people that have helped me with that."

And now Gonzalez is just one of the many young but experienced players that are being counted on to take Ohio State back to the kind of season they enjoyed in 2002.

"If we stay healthy, and even if we have a few injuries, we're the type of team that I feel like we're talented enough and deep enough to where the sky is really the limit for us," he said. "I'm not worried about anything really, to be honest."

With a veteran line and two seasoned quarterbacks returning, Gonzalez would like to see the late-season trend on offense, a more wide-opened arsenal, continue on through the spring and into next year.

"We've always been a balanced team. Maybe this year we will lean a little bit more toward the pass. I don't know for sure. It would make sense," he said. "But I'm sure we'll work the younger backs in and they will do a good job."

Whatever it takes to win.

"We have high expectations," Gonzalez said. "In this program, top to bottom and to a man, we want to go to that Rose Bowl. That's the goal."

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