UC’s Gonzalez prepares for Shrine Bowl, NFL Draft; Marist set to close; remembering ‘Uncle Bill the Ref’; top fives

Union City’s Steven Gonzalez, who recently finished a great football career at Penn State, shown here, is preparing for the upcoming NFL Draft by playing in the East-West Shrine Bowl and training in a respected facility in Florida.
Union City’s Steven Gonzalez, who recently finished a great football career at Penn State, shown here, is preparing for the upcoming NFL Draft by playing in the East-West Shrine Bowl and training in a respected facility in Florida.

After completing a very successful collegiate football career at highly regarded Penn State as a three-year starting offensive guard for the Nittany Lions, Union City native Steven Gonzalez is busy these days in Florida working on the next phase of his already stellar grid resume.

Gonzalez has been preparing to play in the annual East-West Shrine Bowl in St. Petersburg, one of the top college football All-Star games in the country.

The 6-foot-4, 340-pound Gonzalez will play for the East squad in the Shrine Bowl, which will be televised on the NFL Network on Saturday, Jan. 18 at 3 p.m.

Before Gonzalez takes part of the Shrine Bowl, he has been working out daily at Bommarito Performance Systems University, one of the leading performance preparation programs in the nation. Headed by Pete Bommarito, the BPSU approach has been instrumental in hundreds of NFL Draft prospects over the years getting selected in high rounds of the draft.

Not only do the participants work on all aspects of the physical parts of their bodies, like strength and conditioning, agility drills and foot speed, but they also learn about proper nutrition. They also receive top medical attention like physical therapy and massage therapy.

BPSU is a 10-week program that commences with the NFL Draft April 23-25 in Las Vegas.

Currently, Gonzalez is projected to be selected anywhere from the fourth to the sixth round in the upcoming draft, but he can enhance his status with strong performances at the Shrine Bowl in front of hundreds of NFL coaches, scouts and personnel, as well as being a diligent student at BPSU, working on chiseling his already impressive physical frame.

“It’s everything,” Gonzalez said in a phone interview last week. “It’s from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. It’s working on speed, agility and technical work, but it’s also a strength program. It’s educational. This is definitely like a job. At least, that’s the way I’m treating it. It’s really the whole nine yards so I can become more presentable for the draft.”

Gonzalez already earned a degree in history from Penn State in 2018 and began working on a second degree in rehabilitation and human services. He played last season as a graduate student, having one year of eligibility remaining after taking a redshirt season in Happy Valley as a freshman in 2015. He had a brilliant career at Union City High School, earning First Team All-State honors as a senior in 2014.

Gonzalez could have made himself eligible for the NFL Draft a year ago, but decided to return to Penn State to work on the second degree and play a final season with the Nittany Lions. He wanted to enhance his status in the NFL Draft as well.

“Part of the reason I stayed another year was because I thought I could get drafted,” Gonzalez said. “It’s looking good right now, but there’s a lot of time between now and draft day. This is pretty much the first step of my professional career. It’s going to be a long couple of months getting ready, but hopefully, it all pays off.”

Not every NFL prospect gets the opportunity to learn and train with Bommarito. Gonzalez was invited to participate in the camp along with stars like Malik Harrison and J.K. Dobbins of Ohio State.

“There are about 20 guys here,” Gonzalez said about the attendance at the BPSU training facility just outside of Miami. “I called them up to tell them I was interested and then I later got the call to come. I was very excited for it.”

And of course, Gonzalez was pumped to play in the Shrine Bowl, one of the oldest and most prestigious college football All-Star games, dating back to the 1930s.

“All the NFL scouts and coaches will be there,” said Gonzalez, who was leading the BPSU facility and heading to St. Petersburg Jan. 10 for the workouts with the East All-Stars. Mike Caldwell of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is the East All-Stars head coach and Phil Rauscher of the Washington Redskins is the offensive line coach.

“I’m going to get a chance to show them what I’ve got,” Gonzalez said. “I feel confident and prepared.”

Gonzalez said that he speaks to fellow Soaring Eagle alum Josue Matias, who went through the preparation before the NFL Draft out of Florida State in 2015 before becoming the first-ever player born in the Dominican Republic to play in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans. Matias had a brief stint with the Ottawa Redblacks of the Canadian Football League before retiring from football last spring.

“Josue and I talk a lot,” Gonzalez said. “We’re good friends. He’s really been helping me out because he’s been through everything. If I have any questions, I know he’s more than willing to answer them for me.”

So for now, Gonzalez knows he has to fight for a possible draft selection and if that doesn’t work, then the chance to sign with an NFL team as a free agent.

“If you’re not [projected as] a first-rounder, then it’s the unknown,” Gonzalez said. “I just have to keep working hard and I think everything will work its way out.”

The first real step comes Jan. 18 in the Shrine Bowl…

Sad news to report on two fronts last week. First, after months of speculation and rumor, officials at Marist High School finally announced that the school will close at the end of the school year in June.

There has been a report that the Bayonne Board of Education has decided to sign a lengthy lease with the Marist Brothers in regards to the property and turn the school into a middle school (grades four through six), but such a deal has not been officially signed.

The pending closing of Marist will leave such excellent coaches in the lurch with no immediate chance for relocation. Guys like boys’ basketball coach Ben Gamble, girls’ basketball coach Reggie Quinn, football coach Ray Marshall and baseball coach Fernando Fuentes will all be without a job in June.

For all intents and purposes, another Hudson County Parochial school will close this June. It is astounding how many Catholic high schools have closed in Hudson County over the last 20 years. There was St. Aloysius High School and the Academy of St. Aloysius, St. Michael’s, St. Mary’s and St. Anthony in Jersey City, Sacred Heart Academy in Hoboken, St. Joseph of the Palisades in West New York, Holy Rosary in Union City and now Marist in Bayonne.

Not to mention the large number of Catholic elementary schools that shut their doors forever…

And then there was the loss suffered by the Hoboken community recently when Bill Bergin, the former Hoboken deputy fire chief and public safety director, passed away at the age of 80. Bergin was the uncle of Fairleigh Dickinson University head men’s basketball coach Greg Herenda and was a respected official in baseball and basketball, but more importantly, in high school football, where he was a referee and crew chief.

Knowing him for the better part of five decades, Bergin was never Mr. Bergin or Bill to me. He was always “Uncle Bill the Ref,” and referred to him as such. The basketball team at FDU called him “Uncle Billy.” It only seemed like there were thousands of people who called him “Uncle Billy.” Needless to say, Bergin’s passing was a major loss to so many people in the Mile Square City, who packed St. Francis R.C. Church last week for an emotional tribute and farewell. Rest in peace, “Uncle Bill the Ref.” You always made the right call…

Hudson Reporter Boys’ High School Basketball Top Five: 1. Hudson Catholic (5-4). 2. St. Peter’s Prep (7-1). 3. Marist (6-1). 4. Lincoln (6-1). 5. Union City (5-2)…

Hudson Reporter Girls’ High School Basketball Top Five: 1. Bayonne (10-0). 2. Hudson Catholic (8-1). 3. Secaucus (7-1). 4. Lincoln (5-2). 5. Union City (5-2). – Jim Hague

Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com