Anyone feeling worn out by the whirlwind holiday season ought to consider the Yuletide schedule of Cal junior Tony Gonzalez, a 6'6", 240-pound power forward who was also an All-America tight end for the Golden Bears football team. After finishing the regular football season on Nov. 23 with 44 receptions for 699 yards—the most yardage in the nation for a tight end—Gonzalez joined the basketball team the next day in Maui for the start of its season. He had two points in the Bears' 75-59 opening win over Iowa and three points and eight rebounds in the next four games. Just as Gonzalez was regaining his touch with an eight-point, seven-rebound performance against Mississippi State on Dec. 9, the football team called him back to prepare for a Dec. 25 matchup with Navy in the Aloha Bowl.
Over the next two weeks Gonzalez, an American studies major, knocked off three final exams, and on Christmas he caught nine passes for 69 yards in Cal's 42-38 loss to Navy. On Dec. 26 Gonzalez arrived in Sunset Beach, Calif., for a delayed holiday with his family, and he then made the eight-hour drive back to Berkeley in time for a 4 p.m. basketball practice the next day. In wins over Howard and Cal Poly State-San Luis Obispo in that weekend's Golden Bear Classic, he had six points, seven rebounds and one block. Two days later he held a press conference announcing that he would forgo his final year of college football to make himself eligible for the NFL draft. He also said he intended to finish out the season with the basketball team.
"I thought I needed to take this opportunity in football," says Gonzalez, who expects to be drafted in the first round. He adds that he's not worried about the danger of continuing to play hoops: "The risk of injury is always there, but—knock on wood—I've never been hurt playing basketball yet." Indeed, with his physical style under the boards, he's more likely to hurt somebody else.
Gonzalez promises his football career will cause no further disruptions to the basketball Bears, who are off to a surprising 9-4 start under new coach Ben Braun despite a convulsive off-season that saw forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim bolt to the NBA, stars Jelani Gardner and Tremaine Fowlkes transfer and former coach Todd Bozeman step down amid allegations of recruiting violations. As the leading rebounder (4.6 per game) back from last season's team, Gonzalez feels a strong commitment to his teammates and to the game, which he didn't start playing until eighth grade but says is his "first love."
"Football comes naturally to me, but basketball is a challenge, that's why I like it so much," says Gonzalez. "I'd love to play both, but I guess that wouldn't be realistic."
Some might have said the same about his end-of-the-year schedule