Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez should one day be enshrined in Canton, home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
When this generation takes the next generation to the Hall, stories will be told of Pro Bowl selections — he’s made the squad 10 times in 13 years. His career highlights will be gawked at, holding NFL records for single season receptions (102) by a tight end, career touchdowns (79) by a tight end, career receptions (939) by a tight end and reception yards (11,207) by a tight end.
For those in attendance at Tuesday’s Future 4 Kids Gala benefitting the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hall County, however, the next generations will hear different stories.
They’ll hear about a current 6-foot-5, 243-pound man who, when he was in the eighth grade, would hide and run home from school because he was being bullied by high school students.
They’ll hear about struggling through living in a single-parent home and being on welfare, and then they’ll hear what Gonzalez said it takes to overcome the odds.
The most important message they’ll hear, however, is one that Gonzalez heard almost everyday of his life.
“My parents told me when I was a young kid, and even in high school, that you’ve got to give back,” said Gonzalez, who was the keynote speaker at Tuesday’s event at the Gainesville Civic Center. “They stressed the importance of helping others along and it’s something that’s stuck with me, and something I’m committed to doing.”
Another person who has been impacted by the Boys & Girls Clubs is Gainesville High senior Teryan Rucker, who has been a member for 11 years and was named the Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County’s Youth of the Year on Tuesday.
Gonzalez grew up in Huntington Beach, Calif. He was raised by a single mother and was a member of the Boys and Girls Clubs in his hometown.
The effects being involved in the Boys and Girls Clubs had on Gonzalez are plentiful, and none more evident than the fact that his charitable foundation — The Tony Gonzalez Foundation — supports the entity that was so influential in his own life.
“Being in the Boys and Girls Clubs, it was a safe place to go everyday,” Gonzalez said. “I remember during the summer it ws the first place where I was ever really exposed to sports.
“This was before I even played Pop Warner football, I was playing on the Boys and Girls Clubs teams.”
Gonzalez immersed himself in flag football, basketball and boxing to get away from the life he knew then. He admits, however, that football scared him.
“I wasn’t always a tough guy, but I was big into boxing at that time,” Gonzalez said. “But even moreso than sports, the friends I made there were safe: It was just a great environment.”
Through hard work and diligence, Gonzalez left his hometown after graduating from Huntington Beach High School, where he lettered in football, basketball and baseball, and attended the University of California-Berkeley where he played both football and basketball.
He became an All-Pac 10 player and an All-American on the gridiron, and also helped lead the Bears basketball team to the Sweet 16 in his junior year.
After forgoing his senior year to enter the NFL Draft, Gonzalez was taken 13th by the Kansas City Chiefs, an organization he spent 12 years with before coming to the Falcons this past offseason.
“It’s no secret,” Gonzalez said. “A lot of people are looking for that secret little ingredient, and there’s little things that you can learn, but for the most part it’s all about hard work.
“It’s about going everyday and getting up and doing it, regardless of what’s stacked against you or how you feel. I followed my dreams, I never gave up and I work hard and I think those things are important in life.”
And Gonzalez found a unique way of sharing with others those things he deems important: he wrote a children’s book in 2004 titled “Catch and Connect.”
“I was approached about doing the book and told the concept of it and of course, I said, ‘sure,’” Gonzalez said. “I thought it was definitely something that I was interested in and it gave me a chance to tell my story and what I think is important, it was a great experience.”
For as far as he’s come in life, Gonzalez hasn’t forgotten from where he came, his parents lessons on giving back or how important it could be for a child who sees him as a future Hall of Fame tight end, to understand that one day he was just like them.
As he wrote in the forward to his book: “You’ll see I’ve faced the same challenges and setbacks many kids experience. I hope to motivate you to catch the opportunities that come your way.”