'Macho' mans up as GW survives scare from Central

Posted: September 28, 2012

Some athletes don't pick up nicknames until they're deep into childhood, and often those handles are bestowed upon them by teammates or coaches.

And then there's Melvin "Macho" Gonzalez . . . 

His nickname goes way, way back, like a Hail Mary pass from midfield to the end zone. Just don't ask him for too much information.

He can peg the giver as his older sister, Melmarys. And he knows it dates to his toddler days. But he has never asked Big Sis for an explanation, and she, apparently, has never offered one.

Ah, it's probably simple. Even then, Gonzalez must have looked like a hard guy. Must have never cracked a smile. Must have resisted all attempts to make him take a nap.

Friday, the 5-10, 215-pound senior linebacker (and fullback) and his George Washington High teammates visited Central for a Public AAAA Gold contest. Though the Eagles won, 20-16, overall their effort wasn't stellar. And as someone who's in his third season of calling the defensive signals, Gonzalez couldn't help but feel responsible, right?

"Absolutely," he said in, well, Macho fashion. "I put everything right on me. That's my defense out there. I'm supposed to get them pumped up and ready to play."

Gonzalez sensed something was wrong earlier in the week, then knew it during the trek to Broad and Somerville.

"We took them lightly," he said. "We didn't practice as hard as we should have. We knew Central would bring their best effort, but it didn't look like we knew it. We weren't into it mentally, not fully, and they took advantage.

"On the bus, the guys weren't focused. They weren't taking it as a serious game. There was too much laughing and playing around. It wasn't like, 'Hey, we're going into battle!' "

Gonzalez, who stations himself on the inside, involved himself in eight tackles and caught a tipped ball for a second-quarter interception. Three of his stops came on the Lancers' last drive.

If Central had scored, the loss would have been Washington's first in a Public League regular-season game to an opponent aside from Frankford or Northeast since 1987 (39-0 to Abraham Lincoln).

The possession began on Central's 28 with 5:46 left and was given quick help by a 15-yard personal foul. On a wildcat snap, handyman Walter Pegues soon added a 13-yard pickup and gains of 7 yards by Jesse Gillis and 4 by Hakeem Ellis made it first-and-10 at the 21.

On third-and-10, Ellis took a handoff and headed to his right, giving off the slightest impression that a halfback pass would be thrown. Instead, he was dumped for an 8-yard loss by cornerback Shaquon Allen and high-profile end Justin Moody. On a keeper, with linebacker Shawn Henderson making the stop, quarterback Jon Henderson was limited to a 5-yard gain.

Three kneeldowns. Huge sighs of relief.

"We had a lot of miscommunications on defense," Gonzalez said. "We had bad checks. Or guys not hearing. Or forgetting their responsibilities. Can't happen.

"We let their quarterback [Henderson had 16 carries for 73 yards] get outside way too much."

Gonzalez gave the impression he'd be beating himself up all weekend about the almost-loss. That's how he is, and that's the main reason he was given so much responsibility, even as a sophomore.

Macho played his youth football with the North Philly Aztecs, who play in Hunting Park across the street from his house, and he was directed to Washington by then-assistant Keita Crespina, a star on that aforementioned '87 Lincoln team and now a member of St. Joseph's Prep's coaching staff.

"I only played street football until the eighth grade," Gonzalez said. "Once I started playing real football, I loved it. It took me maybe 2 years to get comfortable with everything.

"It means a lot that the coaches trust me to give the defensive signals. If I think it's [justified], I can even change things up. I did it twice today, and one of those times we got a tackle for a loss."

On offense, Gonzalez is almost exclusively a lead blocker. He mostly performs that duty on inside bursts, but occasionally, he'll line up outside the tight end and lead sweeps.

"That's fun," he said, "but defense is where it's at."

Washington jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first 9:39, as Donald Smith (13-51) and Marquis Edwards (11-74) ran for TDs. Central awoke as the third quarter began, thanks to Pegues' 97-yard kickoff return with a lateral. Andy Augustine caught the ball, took a step or two and pitched it to Pegues, who uncorked a true zooooom job.

The Eagles came right back with a 10-play, 52-yard drive, capped by a 10-yard run from fullback Alex Rivera. Even then, Central declined to whither. In fact, except for the kneeldowns, it had the ball for 27 of the game's final 30 plays; Henderson scored on a 1-yard sneak with 8:45 left.

In college, Gonzalez hopes to play football and make progress toward becoming a sports agent.

"It would keep me around the game, and get me good money," he said.

No doubt. Melvin Gonzalez would go the Macho route on GMs and/or owners.

Contact Ted Silary at silaryt@phillynews.com. High school coverage online at www.philly.com/rally.

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