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Gonzalez pursuing a dream

Former Wisconsin Badger and NFL quarterback Brooks Bollinger, left, worked with Willmar quarterbacks and receivers, including sophomore Alex Grove, on Wednesday at the high school fields. (Tribune photo by Rand Middleton)

Ridgewater College head soccer coach Edel Fernandez wants us to know about Hugo Gonzalez.

This spring Gonzalez graduated with an AA degree from the Willmar campus. In June, he survived two rigorous regional tryouts in Chicago for American Latinos to advance to a one-week camp in October in California.

"I told him in May of a great opportunity to try out for professional soccer teams from Mexico and the USA," said Fernandez.

The first tryout sliced the horde of prospects from about 300 down to 24. On June 10, Fernandez accompanied Gonzalez back to Chicago. The hopefuls were whittled down to 21 and then to the 18, who would play a professional team from Mexico.

Scouts were in the stands. The players knew only four would be chosen to continue in the project after the game. Gonzalez played 70 minutes and when it was over he was picked No. 1, the first of the four to continue "El Sueno de tu Vida" -- The Dream of Your Life.

The Mexico U-20 coach wanted Hugo but he was two months long of the Jan. 1, 1990, cutoff.

Fernandez explained that this was one of 10 regional sites that will each send four players to Los Angeles in October. Once there, the 40 young men will have to survive more tryouts to make an 18-player team.

"I'm definitely excited," said Gonzalez in a phone conversation from a New Ulm restaurant where he works "pretty much sun-up to sunset."

He's a 2007 graduate of Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop. His family, which includes two younger brothers, moved to Minnesota from Morelia in the State of Michoacan, Mexico, 11 years ago. Fernandez spotted Hugo while refereeing a Hutchinson Raptors U-17 game and encouraged him to enter college.

"People have more confidence in me than I sometimes have in myself and that can be a problem," he said.

He prefers playing striker but has adjusted to mid-fielder and even defender during the testing. Early in the tryouts he was "pretty confident" but when it got down to the last 18 he started to feel the pressure and "Definitely didn't believe I would make it."

Fernandez is a believer: "The kid is amazing. He's the complete athlete. Plus, he's humble, a nice kid and a good student."

His former coach said two professional teams, Chivas and Tigres, are interested in the Fairfax resident. Continuing to play at a university is also out there.

The Mexican soccer federation initiated the competition to assess all the Mexican nationals growing up and playing in the United States. They have potential both for the national teams and professional leagues.

Gonzales said it would be a tough choice if he ever was fortunate enough to have a chance to play for either country.

"I still have family and friends in the Mexico, but the USA has provided me such great opportunities in high school and college," he said. "Minnesota and Willmar have given me so much. But this is nothing to worry about now."

Fernandez, who ob-tained his national coaching license recently at clinics in Florida, has 18 players signed up for the men's club team this fall. Practice starts Aug. 9 for a minimum 10-game schedule. Last year's team finished 9-3.

On the fly

The Cardinal boys hockey team has wrapped up three weeks on Civic Center ice. Coach Dan Tollefson deployed six lines in a week of scrimmages with River Lakes, Prairie Centre, Hutchinson and Monticello. He'll be taking the team to July scrimmages in Duluth and Alexandria. Several players are attending camps individually. Willmar is scheduled to play at Wadena/Deer Creek this winter, but the game will have to be moved since nothing but the cement slab remains of the 20-year-old arena.

One of the more impressive performances during the two-day Lakeland Tournament noted by club pro Joel Jacobson was by Dan Ridler, who shot his age, a 76, on the second day during the 36-hole Super Senior flight.

Mike Mulder, 59, of Prinsburg also extended a perfect attendance streak running in his 16th Foot Lake 4 on Saturday. He's one of three and the only male who has run in all 16 of the four-milers.

Next in the Glacial Lakes Running Series is the Green Lake 12-miler on Monday. For the third straight year, the start is now at 7 a.m. with the registration table opening at 6 a.m. Last year's 250 finishers is second only to 259 in 2008.

Chuck Kelly picked up the Late Model Feature prize June 18 at Fiesta City leading from start to finish. Wins come less frequently for Kelly now than when he started racing on the Willmar half-mile oval in 1975 but then he races just once a week, at most, almost exclusively at Montevideo.

Brooks Bollinger, 30, worked with Cardinals quarterbacks here on Wednesday. The four-year starter at the University of Wisconsin was 30-12 with a 3-0 record in bowl games. Steve Grove, Cardinal assistant football coach, was the freshman coach at Grand Forks Central and started Bollinger as an eighth grader. He went on to start the next four years for the varsity. Bollinger played professionally for the Jets, Vikings and Cowboys before being released by the Lions on the eve of the 2009 season. The Eagan resident is now with the Florida Tuskers of the UFL.

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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