In 2018, Richard Gonzalez thought he was ready to take on the challenge of his life – namely becoming the starting quarterback for the Bayonne High School football team.
Then a sophomore at Bayonne, Gonzalez felt like he was being groomed for the opportunity to be the starter.
“I was really excited for the shot,” Gonzalez said.
But then, Danny McAuliffe transferred to Bayonne from Phillipsburg and suddenly McAuliffe was the main man and Gonzalez was the afterthought.
“I was a little disappointed,” Gonzalez said. “But he showed more than I did. I guess I figured I better try a new position.”
Gonzalez became a wide receiver on offense and a linebacker on defense.
McAuliffe had a brilliant campaign last season, leading the Bees’ offensive attack. He passed for nearly 2,000 yards and connected for 15 touchdown passes, earning Hudson Reporter All-Area honors.
Through it all, Gonzalez was McAuliffe’s dutiful backup for two full seasons. He felt like he was up for the challenge this fall to finally take over.
“I was pretty confident,” Gonzalez said. “I prepared for the opportunity since last year. I learned a lot from watching him [McAuliffe]. I learned how to lead the team and how to run the offense. I felt like I was ready. I learned how to be a better man and a better player.”
There was only one problem. The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic didn’t exactly cooperate.
With everything shut down because of the virus, Gonzalez didn’t know how to prepare for the unknown.
“I didn’t know if we were going to have a season or not,” Gonzalez said. “I basically had to take each day was my last day. I prayed that we would have a season. I would have been a little bummed out if I didn’t get a chance.”
During the offseason, Gonzalez spent a lot of time working out with his younger brother Jerome Edwards, a junior and a wide receiver for the Bees.
“He’s a great receiver,” Gonzalez said of Jared, who had 29 receptions and scored five touchdowns last year as a sophomore. “We push each other pretty hard. When he wasn’t practicing hard, I let him know.”
Bayonne head coach Jason Acerra knew he was going to rely upon Gonzalez in a big way.
“He’s the leader of our offense,” Acerra said of Gonzalez. “When he goes, we go. He’s been practicing with us since he was a freshman. When Danny came in, Richard took it all in stride, but from the end of last season, he knew he had to be the leader for us.”
It helped that Acerra got some big time help in the coaching staff from some pretty influential players from their days at Rutgers in New Brunswick.
Former Rutgers starting quarterback Gary Nova, standout receiver Leonte Carroo and backup quarterback Mike Bimonte all became members of Acerra’s coaching staff, aiding in the development of Gonzalez.
“They did a great job with Richard,” Acerra said. “They’re getting the best out of him. And Richard embraced it. He’s become an all-around quarterback. He can scramble if needed to get away from the rush. He drops back in the pocket to throw. He’s a little nimble back there. He does a lot of things for us.”
Last week, Gonzalez had his best game to date. He completed 12-of-15 passes for 265 yards and five touchdowns, leading the Bees to a convincing 40-8 win over long-time Hudson County rival North Bergen. All five of the touchdown passes came in the first half and three were thrown to little brother Jerome for 145 total yards.
For his efforts, Gonzalez has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“It was a big week for us,” Acerra said. “I think you can judge your season by beating a team like North Bergen. It’s been a rivalry long before I got to Bayonne. I think we gained a lot of respect and I think Richard did as well. He’s a big part of what we do.”
Gonzalez knows that he makes a lethal passing combination with his brother.
“Once we get going, we’re unstoppable,” Gonzalez said. “Whatever happened in the past between us is over now. We talk about making plays and passing drills, whatever we can do to help us win.”
Gonzalez has now had eight touchdown passes and more than 450 yards in the last two games, both wins for the Bees.
Gonzalez has also become a better student, which will make him more appealing to colleges that might be taking a look at him.
“I’ve really applied myself more to school,” Gonzalez said. “I hope to play football at the next level. I don’t know where I’ll be in the future, but I knew I needed to work hard academically. I’ll see where I’m at after the season.”
Gonzalez also plays baseball in the spring, so he doesn’t know what sport he might select in college.
Needless to say, things are looking up for the young man.
“I think the last two games have done so much for his confidence,” Acerra said. “He’s been getting better and better. Everything he throws is right on the money.”
Acerra was asked about his quarterback’s personality.
“He’s a quiet, reserved kid,” Acerra said. “He doesn’t say much. He’s just getting the job done and that’s all you can ask for.”
The Bees have two games remaining against Elizabeth and then Nov. 19 against Lincoln at 7 p.m. That should be a good contest, pitting two of the county’s better teams.
“I feel we can compete with anyone,” Acerra said. “We can wrap this year up on a positive note.”
Thanks to the senior quarterback who has finally found his true niche.
“It feels good,” Gonzalez said. “I can feel the major improvement.”
The family has one more budding grid star – namely 11-year-old little brother Jared Edwards.
“He’s learning fast,” Richard Gonzalez said.
Much like the big brother did. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com