Wesley’s Gono ready to ‘dominate the field’

 

Wesley College’s offensive lineman Matt Gono. (Wesley sports information)

DOVER — Matt Gono really doesn’t remember much about Liberia.

He was only 4 or 5 years old when his parents left the West African country to escape civil war.

Now, though, Gono’s father, Jeremy, has returned to Liberia to run for a congressional seat later this year.

“He’s always been doing a lot in the community,” said Matt. “Everyone knows him there. He’s really trying hard to fix the problems there.”

Matt Gono has goals and dreams of his own.

But most of them revolve around a sport that a kid from Liberia never would have dreamed of: Football.

American football.

A senior offensive tackle for the Wesley College football team, Gono is on everybody’s Division III preseason All-American team. But that’s only the start of it.

Standing an athletic 6-foot-4, 308 pounds, the NFL scouts like him, too.

Wolverine coach Mike Drass, whose team opens preseason camp on Monday, has had his share of pro prospects. But he said the NFL “buzz” around Gono going into his senior season tops all of them.

Former Wesley quarterback Joe Callahan is in his second season with the Green Bay Packers.

“Joe said, with the lineman, Gono would fit in,” said Drass. “Physically, he looks like them.”

At the same time, Drass said Gono now has to make it happen.

“Here’s what the NFL scouts have said to me,” said Drass. “He has got to dominate the field. So I think his goal this year is to dominate every time he steps on the field.

“There was one game last year where he wasn’t playing all that well. Coach (Jeff) Braxton really challenged him and he really stepped it up. He’s got to step it up every game — that’s what they (the NFL scouts) are looking for.”

Matt Gono

Braxton has coached an NFL offensive lineman before. When he was the offensive line coach at Delaware State, he worked with center Jamaal Jackson, who played nine seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Hanging on the wall of Braxton’s Wesley office is a large reproduction of a Sports Illustrated cover that featured Jackson.

“Jamaal was exceptionally strong and athletic and this guy (Gono) fits right in that mold,” said Braxton. “They only come around once every 10 or 12 years for me.

“I tell you this, you can’t ask for a better young man to coach. Sometimes he can even be too quiet. He’s just a hard worker — a very humble kid. You’re not going to get a guy that’s as athletic as he is (in Division III). You’re not going to get guys as strong as he is or as big.”

Wesley’s coaches say it’s remarkable to watch Gono do pull-ups.

While most big men need an elastic band to support their weight, Gono can do 14 or 15 pull-ups just with his own strength.

“It’s amazing,” said Drass.

Of course, Gono didn’t turn into a good football player overnight.

There were some rough times at Cinniminson (N.J.) High when he first took up the sport as a freshman. Prior to that, Gono had really only played some neighborhood soccer.

“I didn’t know all the positions or anything,” he said about football. “I didn’t know anything about it. I guess the hardest thing was getting the mentality to … hit people. You kind of have to train your mind.

“I remember getting yelled at a lot my freshman year,” Gono said with a laugh. “Because I didn’t really get it. … But after one year, you just pick it up and it becomes more natural.”

Because he’s relatively new to football, Braxton said Gono still isn’t close to being as good as he can be yet. He’s always picking up some of the finer points of playing his position.

“He’s a guy that’s got so much potential that hasn’t been tapped yet,” said Braxton. “The great thing about him is, he’s like a sponge. He’s willing to learn all that and try new things in order to make himself a better football player.”

Clearly, Gono looks the part, especially for a small-college offensive lineman.

He said the funniest thing is the looks he gets sometimes when little kids see his imposing frame for the first time.

“Like yesterday I was at the store and I saw this little girl,” said Gono. “She was just staring at me. And not even just little kids.

“We have orientations here. When I walk in the caf (cafeteria) the parents are looking at me like they’ve never seen something like that. It’s funny. I do get a kick out if it, just looking at people’s facial expressions — like they just saw an alien or something.”

As for the big expectations on his sturdy shoulders, Gono just shrugs them off.

The only reason he knows about the preseason All-American team he’s made is because his friends tell him. And it’s the same thing with the prospect of playing in the NFL.

Gono compares it to high school when he never thought he’d play in college.

“People talk about it,” he said about the NFL. “But I don’t really think it’s good for me to act like I’m already going to be there. I don’t know the future. I don’t know what’s going to happen.

“I’m just going to do everything I can do right now. Coach Braxton says it all the time, that it’s going to take care of itself. I’m just going to worry about my grades any playing football. That’s all I can do right now.”

Extra points

The Wolverines’ first practice is slated for Tuesday at 3 p.m. … The Wolverines open the season with a Thursday night game, on Aug. 31, at Delaware Valley … Receiver James Okike, who wasn’t with the program last fall, has rejoined the Wolverines for his senior season. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder had a breakout season as a junior, catching 79 passes for 1,426 yards with 19 touchdowns in 2015.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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