It wasn’t easy, but Jermaine Gonzales has finally found a home.
The redshirt sophomore came to Michigan with the aspiration not only to be the Wolverines’ starting quarterback, but also to change the face of Michigan quarterbacking. He wanted to break the mold of the traditional Michigan signal-caller – always slow, yet steady, staying in the pocket no matter what the circumstances.
But things didn’t go as planned. Through an injury and an early departure by then-starting quarterback Drew Henson, John Navarre – a year older and more mature than Gonzales – took control of the quarterback position. Gonzales knew that Navarre was “the man for the job,” even though Navarre struggled at the end of last season.
The months between the 2002 Florida Citrus Bowl and spring practice were a constant battle for Gonzales. He prayed about what direction to take with his football career, making frequent trips to see his pastor in Pontiac. Michigan coach Lloyd Carr told Gonzales he would support him no matter what decision he made. Everyone around him had a different opinion about what he should do, but in the end, he followed his faith – right into coach Erik Campbell’s corps of receivers.
“It was tough at first,” Gonzales said. “It was a hard decision that I had to make, as far as getting a lot of outsiders telling me this and that, but I wanted to make the switch that would put myself in position to get on the field.”
“I think he wrestled with it,” Carr said. “He had aspirations of being a great quarterback. I think long term this will be a great decision for Jermaine because he’s going to get better and better.”
The switch from quarterback to wide receiver has been a long process for Gonzales – one that began with a rude awakening. In spring practice, Gonzales ran a casual slant pattern. Needless to say, safety Charles Drake made him pay for it dearly.
“He got knocked out for a second,” senior receiver Ron Bellamy said. “After the hit, he came off the sideline and gave us that look like, ‘This is what ya’ll go through?’ ”
While it was Drake who taught Gonzales that “you have to be a soldier to go over the middle,” it was long afternoons this summer with Bellamy and Tyrece Butler that helped Gonzales to learn the craft of the position. Gonzales’ understanding of the game was there immediately because of his time at quarterback, but knowing how to release off the line of scrimmage, create separation with a cornerback or how to run-block didn’t come as easily.
“He’s learning the tricks of the trade right now,” Bellamy said. “Next year, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
Gonzales has already begun to assert himself, breaking into Michigan’s receiving rotation against Michigan State and Minnesota. He has three receptions for 55 yards in the two games, and is beginning to earn the confidence of Navarre and the coaching staff.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging, but I’ve always been able to catch the ball really well,” Gonzales said. “I believe if I work really hard, I could be a starter next year.”
When asked if the coaching staff had any trick plays up its sleeve involving his former trade, Gonzales had to think before he spoke.
“There are a lot more ways that they can try to expose me in the offense,” he said.