COLUMBUS, Ohio – Former Ohio State wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez has never shied away from a challenge. The one-time four-star defensive back recruit (who was listed as Tony Gonzalez at the time by Rivals.com) defied the odds by putting together a successful three-year Ohio State career, getting drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft, catching touchdown passes from Peyton Manning all while earning an MBA from Stanford University.
Now the wideout, affectionately known as 'Gonzo' to Ohio State fans is ready for a new challenge. He wants to go to Congress.
Gonzalez will take part in the Republican primary in Ohio's 16th district to replace current U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, who is running for the Ohio Governor position. The district covers Wayne County, rural communities east of Akron and some of Cleveland's western suburbs.
It only seems like yesterday that Gonzalez was making a key grab in Ann Arbor (Mich.) from Troy Smith to lead to the winning score in a 25-21 win over that Team Up North.
Now Gonzalez wants to do even more for the state of Ohio.
"I have a million reasons why I wanted to do this," Gonzalez said. " At a very basic level, it is my belief that Congress specifically has been wildly ineffective at solving the really, really big problems that the people of Ohio and the people of this country need solved. Just the way that my brain works, I looked at that situation and I just couldn't not run. I felt like if I did not throw my hat into the ring, I did not raise my hand and try and serve and do what is right for Ohio, that I would regret it forever."
The 32-year-old is hoping to be able to give back to the state that he loves.
"The state of Ohio and Buckeye Nation have been so supportive and have given me so much throughout my entire life that the opportunity to serve them in Congress would be, outside of marrying my wife, my life's greatest honor." Gonzalez added.
Running for political office was never part of the original plan for Gonzalez.
"My goal in life was always to go to law school and then I wanted to be a judge," Gonzalez said. "I always thought being a judge would be a very noble profession. But ultimately, I ended up going to business school and kind of changing course in that regard. I have always wanted to serve, it has always been important to me."
That commitment to service was instilled in Gonzalez throughout his upbringing and has always been a strong pillar of his family.
"I just come from a family, my grandfather on my mom's side was a World War II vet, on my father's side my grandparents with their family escaped from the Castro regime in 1960 and came to this country," Gonzalez said. "Nobody in our family has run for office, but we have always been very engaged politically just because of that background. Serving has always been on my mind. I just think it is the right thing to do if you have the opportunity."
Gonzalez's college coach was known as 'The Senator' by many during his time in Columbus.
There may not be anyone better than Jim Tressel as a friend and advocate in terms of getting into the political arena.
"(Coach Tressel) gives you incredible perspective in one conversation," Gonzalez said. "So, we talked and I was thinking about doing a handful of things in my life, this was months ago, and this was one of them. He said, 'You should go where you think you can be most helpful and go where you think you can do the most good.' Kind of with that in my head and my motivations politically on top of that, I thought that was really great advice. It was kind of just the thing that I needed to hear to really clarify all of the different things that I was considering."
If elected, Gonzalez would be far from the first former NFL player to serve in Congress. Players like Steve Largent, Heath Shuler, Jon Runyan and Jack Kemp made the leap, to name just a few. Through the years it seems as if the NFL has produced more politicians than the other professional sports leagues have. While there may not be an easy answer as for why, Gonzalez has some thoughts on why NFL veterans go into public office after football.
"There is always a sense that what you are doing, you are kind of honored to do it," Gonzalez hypothesized. "The fact that you get to play a game professionally or collegiately at the highest levels, and get that kind of support from a fan base, you just feel, at least for me, I have always felt kind of that deep gratitude for this country and all that it provides and the opportunity that exists. That is kind of part of my motivation."
"I just think it is the right thing to do if you have the opportunity."
Everything leads up to a May 8th primary day with one candidate from each side advancing to a November 6th general election showdown.
Being a starting wide receiver at Ohio State put Gonzalez under a bright spotlight and an intense microscope. Congressional candidate may bring an even brighter spotlight on Gonzalez.
"Time will tell, but my guess is congressional candidate will have, I don't know if the spotlight will be as big but the scrutiny will be heavier would be my guess," Gonzalez said. " We will see what happens. Politics, unfortunately is so nasty at times. Just kind of waiting for that to start happening. Football did train me very well for that, I have had plenty of mean things said or written about me in my life. That is nothing new."
The feedback on the trail has been very strong as fundraising goals are being met by Gonzalez as he settles in for this latest challenge.
"I have gone to each of the counties, met with each of the county chairs and had outstanding meetings and receptions with voters, with grass roots folks, with potential contributors," Gonzalez said. "Really the support and the energy around this, could not ask for more. That is kind of the most fun part of this, meeting with voters and meeting with people and hearing what is on their mind and hearing their perspective on the issues of the day and what is most important to them."