Jose Gonzalez is fully healthy for his senior cross country season for Fremont High School.
That could mean bad news for opponents of the Tigers this fall.
As a sophomore, Gonzalez finished third behind Seth Hirsch of Millard West and Milo Greder of Omaha Westside in the Class A state cross country meet in Kearney. His performance helped the Tigers to a runner-up finish.
Later that fall, Gonzalez was hobbled by a sore foot during workouts. It was discovered that he had a stress fracture and he underwent surgery to insert two screws into the Navicular bone of the foot. The injury caused him to miss the entire 2017 track season.
As a freshman in 2016, Gonzalez had placed fourth in the Class A 1,600 meters at the state meet in Omaha.
“It was tough on me to miss the whole season,” Gonzalez said. “Luckily, I had my teammates, friends and family around to support me. My coaches helped me stay positive, but it was a really long break (from competing).”
Gonzalez didn’t loaf during his hiatus from competition.
“I was still working hard and doing stuff in the pool,” he said. “I was doing the elliptical and biking. I was doing pretty much what I could to stay in decent shape.”
Fremont cross country coach Sean McMahon said it was a difficult period for the talented runner.
“I think that time off challenged him more than anything he had ever faced,” he said. “On the outside, he was great. He was there for his teammates at practice and cross trained. He always went to meets and did what he could to motivate the team, but on the inside it was very hard.
“When you love running and your teammates, having to stand by and watch can be heartbreaking. But he stuck with it when a lot of guys would’ve given up.”
The injury also prevented Gonzalez from getting to compete in track in 2017 against Hirsch, who would go on to sign with the University of Wisconsin, and Greder, an Iowa State signee. Hirsch won the state 3,200 while Greder took top honors in the 1,600.
“I did feel like I got cheated because I really wanted to race those guys again,” Gonzalez said. “I was super upset about that. I felt that if that injury hadn’t happened, last year’s cross country season would’ve gone a whole lot different. It is just the way life goes.”
Gonzalez was cleared to compete just three days before the Tigers’ 2017 cross country opener, the Nebraska Wesleyan Invitational.
“It was pretty much my decision if I wanted to run,” Gonzalez said. “I made the decision to race, brush off the rust and see what I could do. I actually did pretty good and I was glad I chose to race that day.”
Gonzalez finished 14th at Wesleyan and helped the Tigers to a runner-up finish. He would go on to finish sixth in the Class A state meet in Kearney and help the Tigers place third behind Papillion-La Vista South and Lincoln Southwest.
“By the end of the season I was feeling confident in my ability,” he said. “About the time of conference, I wasn’t really thinking about my foot anymore.”
Gonzalez faced another hurdle — albeit a much smaller one than the year before — after cross country. A foot infection, not related to the surgery, sidelined him for about a month.
“I think if that wouldn’t have happened, I would’ve been even better for track,” he said.
Gonzalez helped the Tigers earn a silver medal in the Class A 3,200-meter relay in May at the state meet. He also finished fifth in the 800 and fourth in the 1,600.
Gonzalez has been training this summer getting ready for his final cross country season. The Tigers return a talented group of runners, including Wes Ferguson and Ben Schulz, off of the team that competed in Kearney. Others are also ready to step up.
“I think we have the talent to win it this year,” Gonzalez said.
While the team is at the forefront of his thoughts, the senior also has individual goals in mind.
“I would love to be a state champion,” he said. “That would be a great way to cap off the cross country season.”
With health not an issue, McMahon believes Gonzalez has the potential to achieve that goal.
“I see him being able to now build upon where he finished his sophomore fall,” he said. “At that time, he had run one of our top times at state in school history and was always competing for the win regardless of the competition. I see him there right now. Whether he wins or not in October will remain to be been, but he will definitely be ready.”
Gonzalez hopes to solidify his name among the recent distance great that FHS has produced, including Brian Parr, Jon Ronhovde, Mitch Hunt, Danny Aldaba and Ty Hansen.
“I would compare my freshman times to their freshman times and did the same the next year,” he said. “It was exciting comparing them until I had the stress fracture. I want to get back up there, but I know it will take a lot of work.”
Hard work is something Gonzalez isn’t afraid of, his coach said.
“That passion for running and competing has clearly been a big reason for his quick return to the top in both cross country and track,” McMahon said.
The FHS standout said the injury setbacks have made him stronger as a person.
“I think what I’ve learned is that you should always be positive,” he said. “If you are happy and positive, it is easier to get through things. If you stay positive and have the support of family and friends, it makes things go faster and better for you.”