This year’s class of new inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio includes perhaps the greatest Grid-Hoop State Player of the Year of them all, Huntington Beach High grad Tony Gonzalez, but while he was right up there among the 1993-94 state athlete of the year candidates go inside to see why that went to someone else and for how Tony did in his last game for the Oilers.
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Yes, it would be great this week if we could say we picked Tony Gonzalez as Mr. Football State Player of the Year for 1993 or the State Boys Athlete of the Year for the 1993-94 school year.
Gonzalez, who went on to become one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history, is being inducted this weekend into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio (along with defensive backs Ed Reed, Champ Bailey and Ty Law plus offensive lineman Kevin Mawai, linebacker Johnny Robinson, general manager Gil Brandt and owner Pat Bowlen). He was one of the state’s top five players in 1993 and he also was one of the state’s top four athletes for that school year as well and while we did put him on the cover of Student Sports Magazine and while he was the Grid-Hoop State Player of the Year he was edged for the other two honors.
Before he headed off to play both football and basketball at Cal and long before he became one of the most prolific pass catchers in NFL history (only the legendary Jerry Rice caught more), Gonzalez was dominating on both sides of the ball in two sports at Huntington Beach.
It wasn’t always that way, though. In junior high, according to that cover story in 1994 written by Brentt Eads (now the director of the ExtraInningSoftball.com web site), Tony didn’t like football or basketball and there was a bullying incident as well. But with the guidance of Tony’s older brother, Chris, who would later play football at Orange Coast College, he overcame the fear. And then his met longtime friend Josh Holland (who also later played football and basketball at Huntington Beach) and Josh’s father, John, who got Tony to join a traveling basketball team.
“We saw early that he’d be special,” said 1993 Oilers’ head football coach George Pasco. “We were really hard on him that freshman year, making sure he’d go to class because we knew he’d be something special down the road.”
Heading into that 1993 season as a senior, Huntington Beach hadn’t reached a CIF Southern Section championship game since 1935. The Oilers did it with a come-from-behind 18-12 win over Dominguez of Compton in the D2 semifinals. The Dons led 12-0 in the first half, but Gonzalez and company didn’t give up any more points. Huntington Beach also kept alive its hopes for a perfect 14-0 season.
It wasn’t a storybook ending for Tony and his friends, however. They had to face another 13-0 team in the D2 title game that year (in fact, one of the first six 13-0 vs. 13-0 matchups in California history) and lost 35-21 to Los Alamitos. Gonzalez caught eight passes for 91 yards from quarterback Levi Schuck. He ended the year with 63 catches for 945 yards and 13 touchdowns and he was the team’s leading tackler on defense as a linebacker.
It then didn’t take Tony long to start playing well on the court. In his first game of the 1993-94 season, he dropped in 31 points in a win against perennial L.A. City Section power Manual Arts. He would finish with an average of 27 points per game, one of the highest reported averages in the state.
Gonzalez said playing both sports gave him better coordination, moves, speed and aggression. He also was thinking seriously of even taking some time off from football to give his basketball career more of an advantage.
“Basketball is number one for the first couple of years until I see if I can play effectively at the Division I level,” he said at the time. “I know there aren’t many 6-6 tight ends though there are plenty of 6-6 forwards. I might take a year off of football because if you sit out of basketball a year you won’t have the ability to shoot as good, be in shape, dribble, etc. I think it would be much easier in football to come back.”
As we know now, football won out.
For the 1993 Mr. Football selection process, Tony was the No. 1 player from Orange County (especially because he played on both sides of the ball). He was first team All-State (we placed him on multi-purpose also because of the defense and so we could get another tight end on offense that we wanted), but the player of the year nod went to quarterback Keith Smith of Newbury Park. At the time, he set a state record with 4,244 yards and had 40 touchdown passes for a team that went 14-0 and won the CIFSS D3 championship.
Both Gonzalez and Smith also were strong candidates for State Boys Athlete of the Year later on in the summer of 1994. Smith’s other sport was baseball where he batted .360 and was a fifth-round MLB draft choice that June.
Two others on the short list of what looking back was one of the greatest athlete of the year classes ever was football-baseball standout McKay Christensen from Clovis West of Fresno and a golfing phenom from Western High of Anaheim named Tiger Woods.
We didn’t have the luxury of waiting to see that Tiger would win the U.S. Amateur title that summer and neither did the Orange County Athlete of the Year selections (which went to Tony).
The choice we ended up making was for Christensen. He didn’t come close after high school to doing what Tony did, but in the fall of 1993 Christensen led Clovis West to a 14-0 record in football (top five state ranking) with 44 touchdowns as an all-state running back. Then in the spring, he batted .485, stole 28 bases in 28 attempts and was the No. 6 pick in the first round of the MLB Draft.
We’ll let Tony’s high school basketball coach, Roy Miller, have the final words.
“Every coach should have the opportunity to have an athlete like Tony play for him,” Miller said in that cover story. “It makes you appreciate the joys of coaching, having someone like him play for you.”
Congrats, Tony Gonzalez, on your induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.