Better, Not Bitter

If nothing else, Mountaineer wide receiver Tito Gonzales certainly has a good grasp on the way things work around the WVU football beat.

Gonzales entered the interview room at the Puskar Center on Monday night and saw roughly a dozen reporters walking towards him with cameras, notepads, and recording devices ready to be filled with quotes from West Virginia's starting 'Z' receiver.

"Let me guess: how does it feel to go home?" Gonzales asked, anticipating what surely would have been a question asked early and often during his interview session.

"It feels pretty good," he said with a smile. "Two years ago, I didn't go on the trip. I wasn't playing much then. It's going to be a really good feeling to go home and play against a lot of guys that I played against at high school."

It will, in fact, be the first opportunity for the junior playmaker to play in front of his hometown crowd since he came to Morgantown in the fall of 2004. Gonzales had made nary a dent in the depth chart during his redshirt freshman season in 2005 when the Mountaineers last visited Tampa. At the beginning of last season, Tito was lauded by head coach Rich Rodriguez as one of his team's most improved players. For the past year and change, Gonzales has continued to elevate his play, which has led to a full-time starting job at one of the two outside receiver positions in West Virginia's spread offense.

"It's just been hard work and determination," he said of his rise from the bottom of the depth chart to the top. "Sometimes in life, things don't work out how you want them to. At the end of the day, you can get bitter or you can get better. I just chose to get better. I'm fortunate."

This week is sure to be a hectic time for the well-spoken wideout. One could venture to guess that a main reason for South Florida's anticipated sellout on Friday night is due in large part to the abundance of ticket requests Gonzales has received over the past several days. Ironically, many of those inquiries have come from people who Gonzales barely knows, if he knows them at all.

"People out of the woodworks," he said with a sigh when asked to give a rough estimate of how many people had requested tickets from him. "I probably need about a hundred tickets, which isn't going to happen.

"I think it's a business trip," he continued. "That's why I'm looking forward to getting all of the tickets I can and taking care of that by Thursday night, so that Friday I can be clear of all that."

Having grown up in the Tampa area, Gonzales has seen first-hand the well-chronicled rise of the USF football program. For much of his childhood, there was no such thing as Bulls football. Over the past 11 years, though, Florida's most populated University has shot through the ranks of college football to its current status as a Top 20 Division I-A team.

"When they first started out, they were I-AA and then moved up as the years went on. College football isn't that big in Tampa. Tampa is more of an NFL type of city and professional sports," he said. "I'm pretty sure that most of the people down there are following their program now because of their success. They're getting a lot of attention."

As far as Gonzales can tell, the view of USF football has never been as intense as it will be this coming Friday night when he and his highly-ranked running mates come to town for the biggest game in Bulls history.

"I talked to a lot of people on the phone and stuff, and they're telling me that everyone in the city is anticipating this game," I guess it will be pretty exciting on Friday night when we step out on the field."

As for his homecoming, Gonzales is looking forward to seeing familiar faces, but with one ultimate goal in mind.

"There's a lot of motivation going home and knowing that there will be a lot of people in the stands rooting for me," he said.

"At the end of the day, it's all about winning. If we win, that's what it's all about."

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