He was a familiar presence to some, a new face to many, but to Coach Damian Gonzalez, the football field at North felt like an old friend.

“Really good to be here, I was really wanting to get back into football,” said Gonzalez, the long-time Coog who started in football and transitioned to baseball before earning the head grid coaching gig this spring. “Heck, since baseball ended last year I have been anxious to get out and work with kids.”

The former offensive lineman on the initial North squad back in the early 1990s has the Coogs working hard in the suddenly oppressive heat, but they have responded well so far to his teaching and energy.

“We really needed the spring, given the changes that have taken place,” he suggested. “The first thing I did, after getting my coordinators squared away, was start planning for spring. We are building a rapport every day, between coaches and players, and we want to have them make each other better, every day.”

The rapport began with a rap session featuring the O-line and their new boss.

“I told them, ‘Hey, I was an O-line guy and I will always be an O-line guy,’” Gonzalez remarked. “So they knew I was going to be very involved in what they were doing this spring; I told them that they have to work the hardest: we had some great lines back in the day and the team seemed to go from there, so if this line can do well, it will help the entire team get where we want to be.”

Gonzalez likes the looks of the hogs in camp, from returners Luz Ramos, Josh Guerrero, and Fernie de la Garza to several underclass prospects. He plans on having a line rotation of up to nine or 10 kids. Tough guy Marcos Rodriguez figures to get his reps, as will Jose Longoria and tackle Carlos Diaz, a junior.

“We’re gonna run the ball, you know that, we’re going to come right at you,” said Gonzalez, who developed a number of North linemen into college prospects under former head coach Roy Garza. “We have a bunch of backs who are looking good, and so we feel like we will be able to run it well this season.”

The offense coordinated by former Roma head coach Max Habecker (veteran George Espinoza has the defense) has got some nice-size weapons out wide, including athletic specimen Roel de Leon and tight end Brandon Borrego, of the illustrious Borrego Clan of old. The quarterback job has fallen to burly senior-to-be Max Aguilar, after returning starter Frankie Zuniga transferred out.

“This is the time for Max, we always say, be ready because you never know,” Gonzalez noted. “He has a super strong arm and he played some last year, made some plays, so we think he can use his smarts, and his great arm, to help the offense go.”

Alongside Aguilar in the backfield will be a plethora of backs, including fullback Juan Sanchez, a thickly built pounder, and Jacob Peralez, who has quick feet. Jose Cruz is looking solid in a slot position, and newcomer Jose Zamora might turn some heads as a receiver. As a group, the catchers are long and lean, led by de Leon, a former defensive starter – and a strong hurdler in track – who has a world of potential.

“That’s the thing, we have a lot of youth on this team, not a ton of experience, especially on defense,” Gonzalez said. “But the youth we have, there is size and athleticism, we feel like the sophomores right now have a great class of football players.”

Defensively, North looks set in the secondary, with ballhawk corner Carlos Coronado leading the way, and up front, where rangy Beto Martinez could be one of the Valley’s premier ends. The linebacking corps is all new, but look for aggressive newcomer Jacob Alvarado to continue the program tradition of head-knocking LBs.

“We do not have the size on D that we have had in the past, much of the size is on offense,” Gonzalez admitted. “But our defense will be fast, athletic, and I think, we have some hitters back there.”

All in all, it was a joyous week in camp, as Gonzalez hit the ground running in his return to football.

“Seriously, I have been anxious to get going, because although I loved coaching baseball, I guess football was always in my blood,” he smiled. “Now we have to get to work, and keep it up over the summer and get ready for the season.”