Relationships Lead Gonzalez to Penn State

The Union City, N.J. class of 2015 guard breaks down his Saturday commitment to the Lions.

The sights and sounds of Penn State's eighth spring practice engulfed Steven Gonzalez Saturday at Holuba Hall. So much so that he considered for the first time if he wanted to be a part of it.

There were defensive line drills in one corner of Holuba Hall. Receivers caught passes at the other end, while quarterbacks threw passes and defensive backs tipped balls in another section of the spacious practice facility.

It was the far corner that caught Gonzalez's eye, though. The Union City, N.J. junior three-star guard watched closely as offensive line coach Herb Hand barked instruction and reminded his lineman to stay low. What it reminded the guard of, though, was his high school offensive line coach.

Gonzalez didn't call him before committing to Penn State head coach James Franklin before departing from University Park Saturday evening. He did call Union City head coach Will Valdez, though, who approved his lineman's decision to become the Lions second offensive line commitment and 10th overall in the class of 2015.

"It's like a big weight being lifted off my shoulders," Gonzalez said. "I actually had no idea I was going to commit. I got this little feeling when I got to practice, so I was maybe thinking about it.

"After I met the coaches, I was like ‘yep, this is it.'"

Penn State and Ohio State had long battled for Gonzalez's services, and Michigan State had quickly raced into the picture as well. It's why Gonzalez didn't believe he'd make a decision just yet.

The Lions leaped over the Buckeyes, Gonzalez's previous number one, for a multitude of reasons, the 6-foot-3, 290 pound junior said. One of them was Hand, and another was how he connected with the staff in general.

"He gave off a great vibe," Gonzalez said of Hand. "He's one of the reasons I committed, just the way he reminds of my high school offensive line coach. They just act the same way, and coach the exact same way.

"It was the coaches, the academics, and the campus," he continued. "I like everything about Penn State. Practice was really energetic, and I really connected with the coaching staff."

Valdez used Gonzalez primarily at left tackle a fall ago, but the junior said he has no problem moving to guard, which is where Penn State projects him to play at the next level. It's a feeling made in part by his willingness to play whichever position the Lions' need him at, part by a desire to play as soon as possible, and part because his high school offense closely mirrors that of State's, and he has familiarity at tackle and guard in it.

For the Lions, Gonzalez marks their second offensive line commit and likely last interior pledge. The guard said knowing he was a top Penn State's recruiting board at the position made him excited, similar to the excitement Franklin showed when he pledged.

"We were in his office, and he was selling the school," Gonzalez said. "I asked him for a moment to call my head coach, and he gave me the green light and said ‘if you feel like it is right, it's the place.'

"[Franklin] got very happy, and then he told the other coaches who were waiting outside, and they were very happy. It means a lot to me to know I was at the top of their board, and I'm honored to be a Nittany Lion."

The Penn State head coach has spoken previously about the importance he places on a recruits' word, and Gonzalez said he realizes it. Thus, he plans to take no further visits to other programs, and though he knows other schools will keep calling, he doesn't intend to answer.

Instead, he'll use his time to meet the program's other nine verbal commitments to date in this cycle, and do what he can to add more.

"When I decided, everyone got real excited and it was a great moment," Gonzalez said. "It never crossed my mind that I would play college football until I got my first offer my sophomore year, and I had no idea it would be at Penn State.

"I'm blessed, and I want to thank my coaches for everything they've taught me."

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