Entering his fifth and final season as a member of the Mountaineer football family, Gonzales has certainly seen his fair share of success. In three seasons with the varsity, he has been a part of three bowl victories, including a pair of BCS triumphs. Too, Gonazales has had a major role in the two most recent bowl wins, catching career-long touchdown passes against Georgia Tech in the 2007 Gator Bowl and Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, respectively.
While those touchdown catches are certainly great memories for the Tampa native to take with him when he leaves Morgantown, it would be nice – especially as a senior – to put together a consistent season from beginning to end. No, he probably won't haul in 100 catches and put up 1,500 yards receiving, but for Gonzales and his fellow receivers, having the opportunity to do more than block during games is something they've yearned for over the years.
Luckily for Gonzales, new head coach Bill Stewart and rookie offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen are hoping to bring more balance to the West Virginia offense. Already, the senior has noticed a difference in the commitment of the offensive staff to at least keep opposing defenses honest with the passing game.
"Now, you're not dreading coming to practice," he said bluntly. "You're kind of excited to come to practice because you know that you're going to have the opportunity to make plays. If you make plays in practice, then you'll be able to make plays in the game.
"That's always extra motivation. In the past, we've always, at least 80 or 90 percent of the time, ran the ball. It's exciting that the coaches on offense are planning to be a little bit more balanced this year, definitely."
With every new role, though, comes new responsibility. Whereas perimeter blocking has been a major point of emphasis in past seasons, the receivers are now spending a large amount of practice time working on route running, getting off the line of scrimmage, and of course catching passes. In addition to the physical fundamentals they must perfect, there is also new terminology to learn from Mullen and the rest of the offensive coaching staff.
All of this, says Gonzales, makes his final spring and the first spring under Stewart's leadership that much more important.
"There have been a lot of adjustments for the guys who have been in Coach Rod's system for three or four years," he noted. "That's a big adjustment, but it's still the spread offense. There are new plays and new terminology, so we have to get that down day by day.
"The main thing is that we're learning the offense every day," Gonzales continued. "Slowly but surely, guys are picking up more of the system every day. The less we go out there and think, the better we'll do when we play. The more you think, the less athletic you play."
Another big adjustment Gonzales has made is getting used to a new position coach. Then again, for many Mountaineer wideouts, that adjustment is old hat. Gonzales and fellow senior Dorrell Jalloh will now have played for four different position coaches (Steve Bird, Butch Jones, Tony Dews and Lonnie Galloway) in their five seasons in Blue and Gold. Galloway is arguably the most fiery of the four coaches, and comes to Morgantown after winning three consecutive I-AA national titles as the receivers coach at Appalachian State. So far, the coach and players have worked well together with the same goals in mind.
"I think he's an awesome coach," Gonzales said. "I know that he really knows the game from being a quarterback (at Western Carolina). He can relate to what receivers go through, and I'm really looking forward to this year under his tutelage. The guys, the receivers, just really are happy to have him leading us as a receiving corps."
So with a new coaching staff, new offensive terminology and packages, and new life in the Mountaineer football program all together, what should we expect to see in the fall? All indications are, more balance.
Then again, we've heard that before. Seemingly every year, former head coach Rich Rodriguez vowed to throw the ball more. For the most part, that promise went unfulfilled. What should lead Mountaineer fans to expect any different?
"I think it all goes along with how much the receivers catch the ball and gain trust from our offensive staff and coordinator and how comfortable they feel with calling certain plays in the game," Gonzales said. "Then, once they call those plays in the game, it's about how comfortable (quarterback Patrick White) is with the route."
White and Gonzales have obviously formed a comfortable connection in each of the past two Januarys, with the aforementioned touchdown passes of 57 and 79 yards playing major roles in WVU's wins over the Yellow Jackets and Sooners. Might those plays serve as a sign of things to come? Stay tuned.