There was a time when Kody Gonzalez wasn’t the meanest player on the football field.
Gonzalez remembers as a sophomore being physically dominated by Bishop Carroll in a 67-0 victory over Goddard in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs.
It is a landmark in the timeline of Goddard’s ascension to the Class 5A championship game on Saturday against the defending champion, Mill Valley. It explains how Gonzalez (more than 1,600 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns) became one of the most physical running backs around and why playing Goddard (11-1) these days is more like a cage fight than a football game.
“After going through something like that, you either get hardened or you melt,” Goddard coach Scott Vang said. “And he hardened.”
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A number of seniors on this Goddard team, Gonzalez included, were forced into playing varsity as freshmen and sophomores.
They were 15- and 16-year-olds trying to hold their own against 18-year-olds, so of course they took their lumps. They lost plenty of games, many lopsided, but the worst was the 67-point shutout loss to Carroll.
“We knew something had to change after that,” Gonzalez said. “We were getting pushed around and being too soft.”
No one ever wanted to feel like they did walking off that field again, so they dedicated themselves to the weight room.
They had to get bigger, so they did. And they got a whole lot meaner in the process.
“We’ve got some bad dudes, I mean bad,” senior offensive lineman AJ Vang said. “I love the mentality of this team. Everybody wants to destroy everything in front of them during the game. No mercy.”
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Gonzalez has become a perfect representation of the physical brand of football coach Scott Vang wants to be known for.
After ending last season weighing 165 pounds, Gonzalez added 40 pounds in the offseason and even lowered his 40-yard dash time to 4.5 seconds.
“A lot of running backs try to use their speed to get away from people,” Goddard quarterback Blake Sullivan said. “Kody uses his speed to annihilate people.”
Before this season began, Vang gave his team a speech about the physicality of football. It’s a game of hitting, he said, either be hit or give the hit.
Even as an offensive player, Gonzalez makes sure to give the hits.
“I learned pretty early on that if you keep hitting somebody over and over and over again, then they’re not going to want to tackle you anymore,” Gonzalez said. “That’s when you start to dominate.”
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The nickname “Chu Chu Train” was born in the third game of this season when Gonzalez plowed his way over a defender en route to the end zone.
When Gonzalez came to the sideline, senior defensive end Cale Davidson told Gonzalez it was like watching a train run over whatever was in its path. Gonzalez approved and the name stuck.
“Football is the only sport where you can pretty much go out and hit somebody and not get in trouble for it,” Gonzalez said. “So whenever I get the chance, I like to take that opportunity. It gets the crowd hyped and those hits set the tone for the whole game, not just that one play.”
Watching Gonzalez running over defenders on film has become a weekly highlight show for the rest of the team.
“I think my favorite was in the Salina South game, where he was like 30 yards downfield and he just laid somebody out,” AJ Vang said. “We probably watched it 25 times. Shoot, I watched it even more myself. We love it when he trucks people like that.”
Scott Vang can only laugh at some of the clips. There are more than a few occasions where Gonzalez could have probably taken another angle around a defender; instead, he almost goes looking for defenders to try to run through.
“I kind of wish he would try to put a move on those guys so he didn’t take so much contact, but you can’t argue with the results,” Vang said. “He’ll run over a safety just to prove a point. The guy just has a nastiness to him and that’s been four years in the making. All of that hard work has paid off.”
Gonzalez is looking forward to one more chance at running defenders over on Saturday when Goddard attempts to win the first state championship.
“This is what we’ve been working toward and now it’s finally here,” Gonzalez said. “I’m definitely going to be looking to run some people over. Once you get one, it’s addicting. Then you try to do it to everyone.”