UK's Gonzalez still waiting for his opener

ccosby@herald-leader.comSeptember 12, 2009 

  • Next game

    Louisville at Kentucky

    When: Noon Saturday, Sept. 19

    TV: ESPNU

Forgive Kentucky senior center Jorge Gonzalez if he's a little antsy these days.

Gonzalez, who started all 13 games for the Wildcats in 2008, was suspended for UK's season-opening 42-0 win against Miami University on Saturday for a violation of team rules.

And now Gonzalez is having to endure the Cats' only open date of the season before he makes his debut against Louisville on Sept. 19. Kentucky Coach Rich Brooks said Gonzalez would reclaim his spot in the starting lineup, but the wait hasn't been easy.

"I feel like camp's been a year long," Gonzalez said. "It's tough, but I've got to wait it out. There's nothing else I can really do. I'm just working on me getting better and me helping the team."

The suspension wasn't announced until early in fall camp, but Gonzalez said he found out earlier in the summer that he'd miss the Miami game.

"The day I found out, that night I couldn't sleep," Gonzalez said. "I was just so heartbroken and I was so ashamed. Not only did I let myself down, I let my team down and everybody else down. It was really tough for me."

Gonzalez said that while his suspension meant that UK would have to send out a replacement with virtually no playing experience, Brooks remained calm.

"When it happened, I would have rather him got mad at me and yelled at me," Gonzalez said. "But he didn't. He just told me this is what I've got and this is what I've got to do and kind of left it at that. That made me feel worse than I already felt."

UK quarterback Mike Hartline, one of Gonzalez's closest friends on the team, said he could tell the toll the suspension was taking.

"The thing is, we're really close, and he didn't even tell me until a week before he had to announce it to the team," Hartline said. "He was more upset at himself than the whole situation, but I know he's put it all behind him and is excited to get back out there."

But once Gonzalez got over the initial disappointment, he took his suspension like a man, tutoring Marcus Davis and Matt Smith as they split time with the first team in fall camp.

"Whatever questions they had, I just wanted to let them know I was there for them," Gonzalez said. "Leading up to the game, I think I was more nervous than Marcus and Matt were."

But Gonzalez was the one that was really struggling on game day.

"It was really tough," he said. "At first I debated whether to watch it at all. But it's my team; it's my family. Mainly I just watched the centers."

Davis won the job in fall camp but went down with a season-ending ankle injury early in the first quarter. Gonzalez said it "broke his heart" to see Davis go down.

That forced Smith into the game, and the redshirt freshman gave a good account of himself in the final three quarters. Brooks said Smith will continue to get reps behind Gonzalez as the season progresses.

"One, (Smith) did the thing that he had to do and that's get the ball to the quarterback without any problems," Brooks said. "He made assignment errors, but when he blocked somebody he showed that he's physically capable of doing that. There's a lot of cleaning up of assignments that needs to be done, and he needs to do things a little crisper, but he certainly did a very good job in his first action. I feel very comfortable going in there with Matt at any point. He's only going to get better as we go along this year."

With Gonzalez at center, Christian Johnson at left guard, Zipp Duncan at left tackle and Justin Jeffries at right tackle, UK's line will have a combined 79 starts for the Louisville game.

"This will be the first game that we'll have what we feel is our starting line together," Brooks said. "With Gonzalez at center, the coordination of the whole thing should be a little better this week than it was last."

Hartline, who had perhaps a career day against Miami, is glad to have his buddy back in the lineup snapping the ball to him

"It's a comfort factor," Hartline said. "We've taken a lot of snaps together. We have a good bond. And I'm not saying that I couldn't have that with the other guys, but it's just a natural thing with Jorge."

Gonzalez said the fact that he and Hartline are so close makes it easier for them to do their jobs.

"If we've got a different look (from a defense), I can to go Mike with no problems and ask, what did you see, what did you think, what are you looking at, and that helps us get the defense right and our plays right," Gonzalez said. "The friendship off the field helps us on the field as well."

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