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Utah football notebook: Walk-on taking a swing at the gridiron

Published August 4, 2014 5:26 pm

College football • Wallace Gonzalez gives up baseball for stint at tight end
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

While jocks tend to be lumped together, there's a definite difference between "baseball guys" and "football guys," Wallace Gonzalez knows.

After getting cut by the Houston Astros organization this spring, the 21-year-old Gonzalez figured maybe he belonged in the football camp.

The Utes now count themselves lucky that the 6-foot-5, 270-pound tight end decided to make the change. The big-bodied freshman was making waves in the 20-minute media session of practice on Monday, catching several passes despite never having played the position before joining the team.

"Well, I'm not surprised," coach Kyle Whittingham said. "That's a guy that is very intriguing. He's a guy you're going to want to keep your eye on throughout fall camp to see how he develops because he has got a ton of ability."

Gonzalez spent the last three years in the minors, trying to move up in the Gulf Coast League, then the Appalachain League. An outfielder with a career .225 average, baseball was not working out the way he hoped.

So Gonzalez headed back to his hometown in San Gabriel Valley, Calif., to discuss his next step with his parents. He had a connection to Utes assistant director of player personnel Pablo Cano, and he called him up to say he wanted to go to college and play football while he was doing it.

Things have unfolded quickly, Gonzalez said. He was a three-star prospect at wide receiver at high school, but tight end entails new responsibilities: technique, footwork, routes. Experienced players such as Westlee Tonga and Siale Fakailoatonga have been giving him tips.

"I've been out of the game three, four years already," he said. "So everything is like new. It's like riding a bike hopefully, and everything comes back."

Two starting linebackers good for now

For most of practice that the media could see, the Utes first-string defense ran with two starting linebackers: juniors Jared Norris and Jason Whittingham.

While the Utes are hoping for Gionni Paul (broken foot) to heal before the season starts and still lighting a candle for Jacoby Hale (torn ACL, MCL) to come back some time in 2014, that depth should be fine for now, Kyle Whittingham said. With running back-turned-backer Marcus-Sanders Williams and sophomore Uaea Masina backing up, there's plenty of bodies to use.

One key change, Whittingham said, has been Utah's commitment to a nickel package as more of a base defense against the receiver-heavy spread attacks in the Pac-12.

"The days of having three linebackers on the field with rare exceptions — Stanford week and maybe a few other weeks — have gone by the wayside and it's more of a nickel defense as a base rather than as a sub package," he said. "Even though the numbers are somewhat thin, it's not as thin five years ago when you're mostly playing three linebacker schemes."

Not worried about Wilson

Junior quarterback Travis Wilson was in the spotlight for the wrong reasons last month, earning an underaged drinking citation at a concert. But it wasn't much of a talking point as camp began.

Questions did come up, however, in between questions about Wilson's battle with Kendal Thompson. Whittingham said Wilson's discipline was handled internally, and he still felt like the returning starter has a lot of leadership to offer.

Wilson said he regretted the mistake, but that it is now behind him.

"It's something me and Coach Whitt handled together, and obviously it's not who I am," he said. "Obviously it's a decision I would take back, but it's in the past now."