Many Pitt fans last heard from Pete Gonzalez when he took the final snaps in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 43-0 victory against the Cleveland Browns in 1999.
What they’d be pleased to know is Gonzalez’s life since then seems to be a classic University of Pittsburgh football success story.
A student-athlete comes from South Florida to make Western Pennsylvania his home with athletic glory, a family, and business success.
“I think about that on a monthly basis.” Gonzalez said. “I was a little Cuban kid and had no idea where I was going to. I fell in love with the region. To have the relationships I do, I don’t think I could have done it anywhere else.”
Mandy Gonzalez, who posed with Pete in a memorable 1997 photograph in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, gave birth to the couple’s second daughter, Camdynn Rose, on February 29.
Professionally, Gonzalez handles land leasing and mergers for Texas Keystone Incorporated, which drills for natural gas throughout the Appalachian basin.
But Gonzalez will always be associated with football, and he remains active in the game by providing private instruction to quarterbacks and receivers in small groups on spring weekends.
“Over the years I’d been asked to work with quarterbacks individually,” Gonzalez said. “A lot of guys weren’t getting individual training. They’d go to camps, but it was only for two days.”
As a result, there was little individual instruction and much of what they were taught would be forgotten.
Word of mouth allowed the camps to take off, usually meeting at Moon High School beginning in April.
“We meet for 8-12 weeks for three hour sessions,” Gonzalez said. “There are 12 to 15 quarterbacks in our group.
“My goal is not to have a big camp,” he said. “We can only give individual instruction to small groups.”
The instruction is targeted to fit the type of offense the player plays in.
“I ask the coach what type of system they run. Will [the quarterback] be rolling out or just dropping back?
“Then I teach the technical aspects of quarterbacking and receiving.”
One camper who benefited under Gonzalez’s tutelage was current Seton Hill starter Matt Dowdell.
As a junior in 2003 at Moon, Dowdell completed only 45-percent of his passes for 7 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.
But after working with Gonzalez, Dowdell became at 59-percent passer with 12 touchdowns and 7 interceptions in his senior season and his yards per pass average rose from 6.3 to 10.9. He also became the Tigers’ all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns.
“What Pete did was help in Matt’s confidence and his rollouts,” said Moon head coach Mark Capuano. “Along with our quarterback coach, Ron Skosnik, Pete improved Matt’s throwing motion over the top on rollouts.”
Other Gonzalez protégés include Gardner-Webb wide receiver Darren Rodgers, Syracuse quarterback Cody Catalina, Gannon tight end Matt Davis, and Kent State quarterback Rocco Colavecchia.
Pitt fans will be pleased to know Gonzalez has a relationship with current Panthers head football coach Dave Wannstedt, so perhaps the camp will develop future Pitt stars.
But the story of how Gonzalez went from a part-time starter to 4,000-yard passer under former Pitt head coach Walt Harris is well known in Western Pennsylvania, and many of the lessons Gonzalez teaches his campers are the ones he learned from former Pitt head coach Walt Harris.
Gonzalez still stays in touch with his mentor, who he reports now lives in the Pittsburgh area and consults various college and pro teams.
“He is a library of knowledge.” Gonzalez said. “He would look at a kid and if he knew he’d be a player, but not a good student he’d pass on him.
“I truly believe Pitt’s athletic success [in recent times] was quality coaching,” he said. “Harris had the ability to make a player better.”
“I try to do for these kids what Walt Harris did for me.”
So in addition to Gonzalez running a 7 on 7 drill, he tries to teach lessons in life.
“I really enjoy working with young quarterbacks and teaching kids to be men,” Gonzalez said. “There’s a lot of peer pressure not to do the right thing.”
So in addition to messages on the evils of drinking, drugs, and skipping class, Gonzalez tries to instill his athletes with a sense of respecting the social environment they are a part of.
“Parents and mothers appreciate that,” Gonzalez said. “There’s a way to act in society as a man.”
Gonzalez coaches football players from the 7th to the 12th grade. He is planning to expand to also include camps in Mars and perhaps Greensburg.
He invites players and parents interested in the camp to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-434-5616.