Senior day is supposed to be a time for college football players to celebrate their accomplishments with their families.
At N.C. State this Saturday, mothers will receive roses and fathers will beam with pride at their sons’ accomplishments as family members join players on the field at Carter-Finley Stadium. On this particular senior day, though, N.C. State senior defensive end Michael Lemon will be alone. Phaba Lemon, who raised Michael as a single mother, was murdered by her boyfriend in 2007 when Lemon was a freshman at the University of Georgia.
The lone remaining immediate family member in Lemon’s life, younger brother Marquez, is a senior running back at Stratford Academy in Macon, Ga. He has a playoff game Friday night and won’t make it to Raleigh on Saturday for the Wolfpack’s 2 p.m. home season finale against Wake Forest.
So N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien asked Lemon who he would like to join him on the field when he is honored before the game. Lemon’s answer delighted O’Brien, who has said he has been determined to build a team-first culture ever since he arrived in Raleigh after the 2006 season.
Asked about preseason speculation that Harrow, ever fleet but also slight at 156 pounds, would push him, perhaps take over as the Pack’s starting point guard this season, Gonzalez flashed a smile.
“That’s an American thing,” he said. “In Puerto Rico, we don’t have those things. We’re on the same team. You do what you do better, and I’ll do what I do better, and we’ll combine.
“You don’t have that, ‘You’re a freshman and you’re coming in trying to take my job.’ I never see it like that. I never grew up like that.”
Gonzalez, a native of Carolina, Puerto Rico, did grow up with a love of boxing. His stepfather once was a boxing champion in Puerto Rico, and Javi boxed in a youth league.
“Javi is extremely tough,” Brown said. “You can see it in his eyes.”
You also can see it on the court. Ask former Duke guard Greg Paulus or others in the ACC about Gonzalez’s competitive zeal and in-your-face pugnaciousness.