Growing up in Elsa and then Edinburg, he could play them all, and well. Wally Gonzalez, a 2006 graduate of North, was known as one of the most versatile athletes the school has ever had, competing in baseball, football, basketball and cross country/track during his tenure. After a record-setting run as a half-miler at UTPA, Gonzalez got into the coaching business, and proved to be a natural.
And now he has his first head coaching assignment.
“This is going to be interesting,” said Gonzalez Tuesday night as he waited for the soccer match against Donna. “After what we did last year, the kids all want to keep that going, so that is what we are shooting for.”
After Elias Moran resigned following the Coogs’ fabulous journey to the state Final 8, Gonzalez, an assistant under Moran, decided to throw his hat into the opening ring. He did so in a manner that reflects his coaching philosophy.
“I ran it by a number of the kids, and they were enthusiastic, they said, ‘Go for it, coach, we’ll play for you,’” Gonzalez noted. “It was important for me to do that because if you have guys that will work hard and play for you, it’s going to be good.”
Though he played the game as a youth – it was during baseball in the spring so he had to choose between soccer and baseball – Gonzalez knows that he has somewhat of a learning curve to negotiate.
“Having Rodrigo Castillo makes all the difference,” he stressed, in reference to the long-time assistant for the Coogs who is a futbol man through and through. “He is helping a lot, while I get up to speed on details about the game. And in the end, I really feel that I have been a good coach, in track and football, so some of the things I do we will do, and others I will learn as we go along. As I said, it is all very interesting to me and I am excited to have become a head coach.”
Gonzalez knows that there is a certain level of pressure on him this season, and on the Coogs. Following up the amazing successes of 2017 will not be easy, and North got its baptism of 2018 fire down at the Southmost Classic recently, winning one of four games against top-flight competition.
An early rash of injuries hurt the side’s continuity at Southmost and Esteban Lopez, one of the program’s best, is still hobbled with a quad problem. But the Coogs played well against Donna, taking a 2-0 result in preparation for a trip to the Corpus Tournament over the weekend.
If the Coogs and their new coach are to compete for the 31-6A crown again, Lopez will be a key part of the defense. Veteran Frank Cantu joins with him to give the team a strong crew, with holdover Danny Mejia taking over in goal. Up the pitch, Gonzalez counts on Carlos “Gallo” Rodriguez, an inspirational force for the squad the past few years, and also has a new face in the middle. La Joya transfer Jared Garcia is a lightning quick little guy with a big leg and superb agility. He was very impressive against Donna, making things happen in the midsection.
Another newcomer is not really new. Brandon Perez, the former Econ standout, joins North as a senior and versus the Redskins showed that he still has the touch with a second-half goal that put the tilt out of reach after Kevin Perez had tallied in the first. The Coogs have enough returning talent to make another excellent showing, and a rookie coach who is intense, intelligent, and totally aware of what is happening.
“I think the bottom line is passion,” Gonzalez said. “If your guys play with passion, they’ll be successful, and in soccer, the kids, the fans, everyone has tons of passion for the game. And I bring the passion to everything I do, from playing sports in high school to running in college. Happy to be here, man, really excited.”
SOCCER ACTION FROM THE WEEKEND
With the district derby in the offing, to start Jan. 26, city soccer sides got down to business over the weekend with a spate of matches around the area and beyond. The epicenter of the boys’ action was north, as Vela, North and Econ competed at the Mira Gulf Coast Classic in Corpus Christi. EHS was localized at the BISD in Brownsville. Following a trio of wins Thursday it got harder in Corpus. But all three survived into the money rounds with North losing in the title match to Weslaco East and Vela being nipped for third place by Corpus Christi Vets. The Jags went out early on the third day, victims of a tie with Vets.
The girls split up into pairs, with Vela and Econ at the BISD down the Valley and North and the Lady Bobcats at the Edcouch-Elsa Tourney. The Lady Cougars had an excellent run with victories over Sharyland and league foe P-SJ-A Southwest, plus a draw against Harlingen South. Coach Danny Valdez’ group is looking pretty salty as the regular season approaches. EHS managed to beat East at the tourney but a PKs loss to Southwest ended the run for the Lady Bobcats.
Vela was on a tear during the first two days down in Brownsville, taking five of six tries, losing only to eventual Silver titlist Harlingen, 1-0 after penalty kicks. The Lady Sabes made it to the quarterfinals before dropping out, as eventual Gold champion Memorial scored a 1-0 triumph. The Econ girls were solid as always, advancing until a 1-0 Friday loss in PKs to Vela dropped it to the Silver bracket. The Lady Jags beat La Joya Saturday in the quarters and were finally eclipsed by San Benito, 1-0.