Anthony Gonzalez felt himself making a highlight reel catch on Saturday. Pitt, up 7-0 at the time, entered Louisville territory at the Cardinal 45 yard-line. Looking for a big play, quarterback Tino Sunseri saw Gonzalez cutting towards the middle of the field. The ball was there, as Gonzalez leaped, reached out, and made a one-handed grab. Unfortunately, Louisville defender Calvin Pryor was also there.
"(Sunseri) hit me in the perfect spot," Gonzalez said. "I caught it, once I was bringing it down. (Pryor) put the shoulder and helmet pad right on the ball, and the other guy from the other side came and got a hand on it. It was a hard hit. I haven't got hit like that in awhile. I gotta make those catches."
He then heard it from his position coach, Tony Dews, when he returned to the sideline.
"I get to laugh at him a little bit because the other day, he let the ball go when he got tagged over there at Louisville," Dews said. "He came off, he said, ‘Coach, I've never been hit like that before.' I said, ‘Welcome to the world of college football, Anthony. Catch the dang ball.' It hurts less when you catch it, I promise you. I think he's accepted it; bought in. I think he's worked really hard at doing that. He's getting better at it, and he's mixing it up a little bit."
It wasn't all bad. If the play proved anything, it's that there's a hope and a need for Gonzalez to become more involved. That's why he's been moved to the three-back position.
Gonzalez chose the Panthers over a host of other offers coming out of high school. As a quarterback for Bethlehem (PA) Liberty, he led his team to a state championship as a junior, and was named Pennsylvania's AP Player of the Year for Quad-A. He had 5,311 yards of total offense to go with 61 touchdowns. He wanted to get his shot at quarterback—redshirting at the position as a true freshman. He was named the offensive winner of the Conway Award, which goes to the most improved player on both sides of the ball at the conclusion of spring drills.
Gonzalez had his sights set on playing quarterback, even though he knew Sunseri would be Pitt's starting quarterback.
"I was because I've played quarterback since I was in seventh grade," Gonzalez said. "That's the position I love playing."
But then, something occurred to him.
"I didn't want to sit the bench," Gonzalez said. "I just want to play and just get on the field. I missed playing. I never sat in my life. It's them giving me the opportunity to get on the field and help the team. That's what I went for."
It opened the door for Gonzalez to make a position switch to the three-back, which is a hybrid tight end/running back/receiver. Out of all the other players at the position, Gonzalez has the most ability to run the ball. His place at the position adds a new dimension. Dews would love to take credit for making the call on Gonzalez' switch, but he deferred to head coach Todd Graham on that one.
"I wish I could take credit for that, but no, that was the head coach," Dews said. "He calls himself the head coach and the GM and the personnel guy. That was coach Graham's move. Obviously, he's had a guy like that at Tulsa in the past with Charles Clay. He knows exactly what he's looking for in that position. I think the thought was that Anthony Gonzalez is an athletic kid that is a good football player. If he can help us somewhere on the field, it's better than him sitting and watching if he did not win the quarterback job."
Dews relishes the opportunity to have Gonzalez as one of his players in individual work in practice, and in the meeting room. So far, both Dews and Gonzalez appear excited about the move. Gonzalez had a career-high three receptions at Iowa, his first collegiate game. He had 29 yards on just two catches in the loss to Rutgers. For the season, he has 9 catches for 58 yards. He saw some significant time against Louisville, and although he didn't come up with a reception in that game, the fact that Sunseri was looking for him over the middle on that play at Louisville where the ball was separated by the defender, there is a sense to get Gonzalez more involved.
"I think he has (accepted the position change)," Dews said. "I'm sure early on, he was a little bit skeptical. He wasn't sure what to expect. It's a little bit different because toughness comes in different forms. He's a quarterback and he's running with the ball. He certainly ran harder, was a tough kid and certainly did those things. It's a little bit different when you line up at the point of attack. Now you're running into 250+ pound guys. That's a different type of toughness. I think he's worked really hard at doing that. He's getting better at it, and he's mixing it up a little bit."
As for that running the football, Gonzalez has a different take on it, and it's not about just lining up in the backfield and carrying the ball. In some cases, the position calls for that as it did for Clay at Tulsa. Gonzalez rushed for 1,697 yards as a junior and 1,210 yards as a senior from his quarterback position.
"It's just run after the catch," Gonzalez said. "If you get the ball, you have to get yards after the catch. That's where the running comes in."
While his numbers aren't among the team leaders in receptions, Gonzalez appears to be getting more reps at the position. While Hubie Graham, Drew Carswell and Brendan Carozzoni have also been mixed in at the three-back, Gonzalez may be the most athletic of the bunch. His development will not only give him more of a reason to be on the field, but also adds another wrinkle to Pitt's offense along the way.
"You always want the ball," Gonzalez said. "You love playing this game, you always want the ball. When I get my chance, I just have to make those plays. Just go through the offense, whenever I get that chance, I have to make it."