ESCALON -- Folks in Escalon promised back in August that Alan Gonzalez would be a special player, and not just for the Trans-Valley League.
His box-shaped frame, his agile feet, his powerful arms, his thick thighs and his attitude. He can be a bit nasty at times, I have no doubt, but it comes with the job.
He's the guy this town needs to win a section title Saturday. Most folks realized this long before the team broke its first huddle. The Cougars were in Gonzalez's care.
The beefy, two-way tackle has done well in this role, using his power to make a star of fullback Nathan Chunn and a mess of some of the region's top offensive lines. You can expect to see plenty of Gonzalez during Saturday's game with Central Catholic the third year in a row these dynasties will collide in the playoffs. The last two went to Escalon, which crushed Central's run game and spirit each meeting.
The Sac-Joaquin Section D4 final has plenty of stars, including a record-setting 2,100-yard rusher and an Oregon-bound tight end, as well as my pick for the Stanislaus District's top offensive linemen.
Gonzalez was on the way there even before he silenced Placer's Eddie Vanderdoes two weeks ago, preventing the USC-bound tackle from impacting the game. Then he comes back and plays a beast of a game in last week's quadruple-overtime win over Los Banos avenging a season-opening loss.
Gonzalez is playing the best football of his career when Escalon needs it most. Don't we all know Chunn is going to carry the ball 25 to 30 times a game? But Chunn keeps getting yards and scoring touchdowns.
Watch Chunn on Saturday and you'll often see Gonzalez in front of him, clearing the path of a linemen or two. He's become an artisan in the complex Wing-T blocking schemes, but that has come only after his many seasons working as an apprentice.
He could have played varsity during his sophomore year at many schools, but not in Escalon. This town grows linemen as proficiently as its farmers grow almonds.
Gonzalez was pulled up for the playoffs in 2010, and even posed for photos with the state championship trophy. He had a great smile back then, and he still does.
I saw it up close, without the facemask and the game scowl, a few weeks back at The Donut Shack in Escalon. I was eating apple fritters with the locals and in walks Gonzalez game pants still stained with the grass and some blood from the night's 33-7 win over Hilmar with his mom.
Everyone knows Gonzalez, even the guy behind the counter who is busy putting some of the linemen's favorite pastries in a bag. The old guys that are eating donuts insist that Gonzalez talk about the game.
The crowd had been there, just an hour before, and seen Gonzalez and his fellow linemen dominate the line of scrimmage.
They wanted to hear what it was like to have those bodies punishing each other. They wanted to know what it was like to drive someone into the hard turf, forcing the breath out of his opponent on impact.
Mostly, they just wanted Gonzalez.
Up until a few weeks ago, he wasn't much in demand outside Escalon. He'd gotten a few recruiting letters from some small California schools, in large part a result of playing at such a small school.
Gonzalez was an all-state small-school pick as an offensive tackle last season, and is a good bet to be recognized again.
He's hoping to put together a portfolio to attract a larger suitor. The video of his game against Vanderdoes, his all-state award and 3.1 GPA are already in there.
He hopes to add a section title, as well.