The first time Zach Gonzalez stepped in for Mike Arredondo it was short lived and it is clear the patient and powerful Gonzalez has more of a long-term plan this time around.

The Desert Vista senior is in line to be both the starting fullback and middle linebacker, a role Arredondo flourished in to become one of the state’s mostly highly respected and arguably best two-way player.

Gonzalez knows someone has to do it so why not him? He already has experience, albeit just one game, doing just that.

When Gonzalez was a sophomore, and Arredondo a junior, the latter missed the first half of the season because of a knee injury, so Gonzalez got a shot at fullback.

Gonzalez scored a touchdown in the season-opening win against Tucson, but came away with an injured leg that ended his opportunity soon after it started.

Last year with Arredondo healthy and a host of other talented ballcarriers — the team ran for 3,044 yards, the second most in school history — Gonzalez, who had four carries for 31 yards and two touchdowns, was mostly a lead blocker when the offense went to a wishbone set.

“I knew I was going to get that chance and then I got hurt,” Gonzalez said of his first varsity game. “It was tough, but injuries are part of football. Then last year, I took as many mental reps on the sideline as I could. I wanted to be on the field like everyone else, but look at what we did and you can’t complain.”

It doesn’t surprise Thunder head coach Dan Hinds that Gonzalez was willing to bide his time for the good of the team without worrying about his needs.

“He is a kid you want to have that breakout year his senior year,” Hinds said. “He works hard in practice, learns from the guys in front of him, and is more than prepared when it is his time. That’s how you build a good program and Zach understands that.”

So now that the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Gonzalez is ready to take the field all he has to do is replace one of the program’s most celebrated players.

“Those are some big shoes to fill,” Gonzalez said.

And he is more than willing to try them on starting Saturday, Aug. 18 against Palo Verde of Nevada on the Sollengberger Classic at University of Phoenix Stadium.

“I’m ready,” he said. “Playing as a sophomore gave me confidence and getting to play in the state title game was unreal. It’s my chance.”

His teammates are anything but worried even though they know his role on both sides of the ball will be vital.

“What Mike did for us and what Zach is about to do is very important,” senior quarterback Matt Young said. “I know he doesn’t have the physical stature of Mike, but he still brings it just as hard.”

Gonzalez, who has good hands and caught a pass for an important first down in the state semifinal win over Basha, absorbed as much as he could from Arredondo, who has taken his career to the next level at New Mexico, but is smart enough not to attempt to emulate No. 32.

“I’ll be my own person,” he said. “No one is going to replace Mike. I’m just going to play the best that I can.”

Thunder wide receiver Kaleb Germinaro said it will be enough.

“He is athletic and fast for his size,” said Germinaro, who often keys off of Gonzalez’s blocks on the fly sweep. “He is good at everything. We have been together since seventh or eighth grade. I trust him with everything.”

Gonzalez won’t have to do everything — only take advantage of this second opportunity.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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