Joaquin Gonzalez’s smile couldn’t have been any broader Tuesday when the former University of Miami offensive lineman strode into the Treetop Ballroom of Jungle Island to get his camel-colored blazer that UM Sports Hall of Famers refer to as “gold.”
Gonzalez, 37, the right tackle for UM’s last national championship team in 2001, missed his originally scheduled induction last year because he was on a business trip in Germany. He was more than grateful to be invited to give his speech this year instead.
“It’s awesome the committee understood my situation and realized it wasn’t because I was being selfish,’’ said Gonzalez, a Miami Columbus High alum who was accompanied by his son Vicente, 10, daughter Sophia, 9, nephew Joshua, 8, wife Yesmi and about 40 family members and friends. “As much as this is an honor for me, it is an honor for my family because of the way I was brought up and became the hometown kid playing for the hometown team. My family lived and breathed our season. My family became the pseudo mom and dad for a lot of the other guys.”
Gonzalez joined eight of the nine current inductees in celebrating what they consider one of the biggest accomplishments of their lives. The ninth newest UM Hall of Famer, Ryan Braun, is a six-time Major League Baseball All-Star with the Milwaukee Brewers and was officially inducted into the UM Sports Hall of Fame at UM baseball’s First Pitch Banquet on Feb. 10.
Inducted Tuesday: Audra Cohen (tennis), a native of Plantation and Miami Herald Player of the Year her junior and senior seasons for St. Thomas Aquinas; Dan Davies (baseball), a left-handed pitcher who was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the eighth round of the 1986 draft; Steve Edwards (basketball), Miami High’s own who graduated UM in 1996 and led the Canes in scoring three of his four seasons; James Jackson (football), a running back who played with Edgerrin James and Clinton Portis and a heap of Hurricane greats; Katie Meier (coaching), UM’s women’s basketball coach who just completed her 12th season and has led her team to the postseason eight consecutive years, including six of those in the NCAA tournament; Jeremy Shockey (football), the tight end with the Oklahoma drawl and hands that helped the Canes win the national title in ‘01; Valeria Tipiana (volleyball), UM’s first volleyball inductee, who graduated in 2005 and became the first UM player to pass 1,000 career kills; and Darryl Williams (football), a 1989 Miami American High graduate and one of the finest safeties UM has ever produced.
“This means the world to me, because I can enjoy it with my family and kids,” said Williams, who was accompanied by his three children, wife, parents and other family members.
Meier said she was “fine’’ until she walked in and they showed her the ballroom. “Then I was like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ It didn’t really hit me. I guess I’m nervous now,’’ she said before posing for photos with the others. “To go in as a coach is something different. People think coaches kind of make their own thing, but I just relied on everybody for my vision. It just doesn’t feel like it’s about me.”
Shockey said he “didn’t believe it at first’’ when he got the call he was inducted. He recalled telling his mother, Lucinda, who attended the ceremony, that he wanted to go home when he saw how intense his competitors were on Greentree Field after he transferred from Northeast Oklahoma A&M Junior College. “I thought I was in the wrong place. I felt like I was in the NFL.”
Jackson, 40, living in Oakleaf, Florida, home of current linebackers Shaq Quarterman and Darrion Owens, said his induction was “a blessing. But it’s just not me, I’ve got to give it to my running back coach Don Soldinger, my receivers — Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne, Darryl Jones, Andre King and a plethora of guys; my tight ends, my quarterbacks.
“They were the ones who made it happen.”
Said Gonzalez: “You couldn’t write a better ending to a story.”