BRADENTON -- Emilio Gonzalez knew he was running out of opportunities.
Heading into the third game of the football season, the Manatee High senior had never started a game.
Then the wind started blowing in his direction. Kwanzi Jackson, the Hurricanes' best defensive player, left the team and it resulted in some personnel reshuffling.
Gonzalez found himself in the starting lineup at inside linebacker in Game 3 against Tallahassee Lincoln. The Canes lost, but he made his presence felt with a team-high nine solo tackles, three tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries.
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In the Canes' last game two weeks ago, Gonzalez raised the question "where did this guy come from?" -- he racked up eight tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in a 38-0 victory over Tampa Alonso.
Better late than never is the rally cry surrounding the 5-foot-11, 210-pounder who moved to Bradenton from Miami four years ago.
"I've been trying to tell them plenty of times that I am willing to do anything I can on the field. My motivation is (that) there is no tomorrow," Gonzalez said. "I know every time I step on the field I have to come with everything that I've got and leave everything on the field."
Manatee will need the best of Gonzalez when it travels to Lutz to face Steinbrenner in a battle of the only remaining unbeaten teams in Class
8A-District 6 play.
Manatee was dominant over Alonso. The Canes had a bye last week and used it to heal some of their wounded and work on fundamentals.
"Emilio is somebody we blitz. He is a wrestler and has great body control and gets to the line real well," Manatee head coach John Booth said. "He had a really good game against Lincoln and it carried over to the Alonso game. He is very physical. On defense we've also really gotten good play out of Nelson Domingue, Mahlik Mills and Matt Kissell."
Gonzalez and Mills are tied for the team lead with 11 tackles for loss and Mills leads everyone with four sacks. Kissell is the Canes' leader in tackles (27) and Domingue has four tackles for losses.
"Alonso was our most complete game on both sides of the ball," Booth said. "We have been putting up some pretty good yards offensively and limited them in their run game, which is what they like to do."
With seven lost fumbles in four games, ball security has been an issues for the Canes, but Booth says he is seeing improvement and he expects the Canes to cut down on their penalties (12 vs. Alonso).
"We had a good bye week," quarterback A.J. Colagiovanni said. "You can have a lot of things go wrong (in a bye week) and be complacent (but) we were very aggressive. Our goal is to get better every day and work on timing with everyone across the board."
Colagiovanni scored three touchdowns against Alonso and completed 10-of-18 passes for 154 yards. Lorenz Allen went over 100 yards rushing for the second straight game with a career high 134 yards.
"I've been happy with A.J.," Booth said. "He has really good command of our offense,understands what we are trying to do and is throwing the ball well. We are stressing we have to protect the ball better, but he has really developed with our read option and that has added a dimension to our offense."
Steinbrenner (5-0, 2-0) is undefeated, but has yet to beat a team with a winning record. Booth hopes the tough schedule he put together will start paying dividends for the Canes (2-2, 1-0).
"They are a good team, very fundamentally sound and have a good young quarterback and running back," Booth said. "You would like to think our schedule can help. We tried to front-load it with some heavy competition at the beginning of the year. I like to think we are battle-tested."