Gonzales High grad to continue football career in Washington – Salinas Valley Tribune

GONZALES – As he headed north to see the universities for his brother, Gabriel Méndez was an eighth-grader trying to enjoy the summer and not get stuck in a car during a 15-hour trip.

Mendez, who graduated last Saturday, was not interested in his plans after high school at the time; while touring the campuses, he ignored what the tour guides were saying. But Puget Sound University in Tacoma, Washington, caught his eye, thanks to JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

“I remember how the school reminded me of Hogwarts,” Mendez said. “After visiting a lot of schools, that was the only one I remembered.”

Little did he know that at that moment he would be writing the next chapter of his life there.

Upon entering Gonzales High School, Mendez did not play any organized football and was a prodigy of baseball, as he would be a four-year college player during his Spartan career. Although baseball was his best sport, as he grew older, his love of the game was not the same.

“I used to play more baseball,” Mendez said. “But as I got older, I didn’t like it as much.”

Méndez’s father, René, Gonzales’ principal, thought his son had a promising baseball career and that it would be in his son’s best interest not to play football because he had some minor concussions before entering high school.

Before Méndez could enter the campus, Gonzales’ former football coach, Art Berlanga, had already set his sights on him.

“Gabe was in my physical education class and I’ve heard a lot about him,” Berlanga said. “He was a very good athlete. He would probably be the best athlete to come out of that class.”

So every day Berlanga put his gift of persuasion and pointed it out to Mendez for a whole year until he finally said yes.

“I started working on it every day,” he said. “I would say,‘ I’ll be ready for you next year. You will make our team much better. ‘

After being convinced to join the team, Méndez’s next step was to find a place to play. Of course, because he was able to pitch, a baseball coach thought it would be a good idea to try him out as a quarterback.

“I wanted him to prove himself as a quarterback as he knew he was playing on the short field,” Mendez said.

Mendez, however, did not like playing quarterback in his freshman year as he realized that throwing a baseball and football are different when it comes to movement. He was not going to give up his team, although he thought that playing for the receiver would be more fun for him.

“I didn’t like playing quarterback,” he said. “I wanted to switch to the receiver, which turned out to be much better for me.”

He needed an injured ankle to pull Mendez out of the quarterback position. Shortly afterwards, in a game against North Salinas High, he would have his chance to play as a receiver when his starting receiver was injured. Since then, he has never left office.

Entering his junior year in 2020, which would be his second year of football, he is expected to start with a great receiver on a college team that could be better than the team that went 11-1 and won the St. Lucia Division.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Gonzales Institute decided to cancel that fall sports season.

What affected Méndez most from the cancellation of the season was the fact that that year he could not share the field with some of his teammates after the bonds they built between them.

“Entering that season, I was very excited,” he said. “I had a very good relationship with the class above me. I thought we had a chance to be very successful with coach Berlanga leading us. And when Covid hit, it was depressing because we didn’t get a chance to show the team we would have.”

Gabriel Mendez (No. 2) of the Gonzales Spartans walks with his teammates before a football game last September. He will continue his football career at Puget Sound University in Tacoma, Washington, this fall. (Jason Gallardo / Staff)

Entering his senior season in 2021, many things had changed for the football team. Coach Berlanga would disappear and they went from a team full of seniors and juniors to youngsters playing college football for the first time. With Méndez leading without playing a college football game, he was the team’s main offensive weapon.

“I knew I didn’t have much experience, I didn’t even know how to deal with it,” he said. “I just knew I had to dodge a lot of people so they wouldn’t hurt me.”

Last season was a year off for the Spartans as he did not win a game.

Mendez finished the season with 629 yards received and five touchdowns, while the second team was in the entire league in the Mission Division. If it weren’t for the fact that his starting quarterback has dropped in the last four games, he would have a great chance of making the first team.

Although Mendez’s team’s season was not great, he found the love of the game that he wanted to pursue after high school.

“One minute, you’re in pain, and then the next minute, you’re running down the band about to score a coach,” he said. “And when you hear the noise of the crowd when you’re in a long run, there’s nothing like it.”

Mendez, who spent all but three months of his life in Gonzales, loved this experience: from cycling through the fields to walking around the city on Friday nights to the stadium before the games.

“It means everything,” he said. “There’s no other place like Gonzales. It’s amazing how historic Gonzales is.”

When the season ended, Mendez was trying to find a university to play for for the next four years. Due to the lack of experience he had, not many four-year-old colleges were willing to take risks and give up a place on the list.

“Not having my junior year really affected me,” he said. “It was a season I wish I had just to gain more experience. More knowledge and training would make me more successful in my senior season.”

Although Méndez has been playing football for a couple of years, his former physical education teacher believes he will surprise many people.

“For him to train and be a real football player, he’s going to be a hell of a player,” Berlanga said. “I think he’s going to have a better college career than a high school career.”

While applying for school, his father reminded Mendez to apply to Puget Sound University. Once he did, he was able to connect with the coaching staff instantly and his decision was made.

“When I was applying for football, my dad knew that was the only school I liked. My dad told me to apply,” he said. “When I came in, the coaches were very interactive with me.”

When Mendez finally enters campus this fall, his goal is not the NFL but to follow in his father’s footsteps so that one day he can return to the path he has.

“I am blessed to have a father who will work to help the community and bring it back to the youth,” he said, “and who has enough time to go home and watch TV on the couch with us.”

When Méndez began his high school career, he never played organized football. After dedicating himself to the process, he will not only be able to continue his football career, but will also improve his education to help his community.

“Seeing football was something I was decent at, it changed my life,” he said. “I never thought in 100 years that I could take myself to the next level.”

Gonzales High grad to continue football career in Washington – Salinas Valley Tribune Source link Gonzales High grad to continue football career in Washington – Salinas Valley Tribune

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