Marco Gonzalez took a deep breath as he soaked in his surroundings. He was finally stepping onto Peter Johann Memorial Field as a Rebel in the scarlet and gray instead of just another fan.
“It was definitely nerve wracking for sure. It was by far one of the best moments to finally walk on the field as a part of the team I grew up watching,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve been talking to [Coach Ryerson], oddly enough, for a while. He always jokingly told me that he would want me to play for him. That was always the goal.”
Gonzalez joined the team in 2017 where he immediately started to prove himself worthy of finally being a Rebel.
UNLV broke out of an early season scoring slump in emphatic fashion, as freshman forward Gonzalez sparked a 3-0 shutout of Gonzaga during the final game of the Johann Memorial Classic tournament.
“That feeling you get from winning and the satisfaction of it all…there’s no other feeling comparable. The locker room environment postgame, it’s one of the best feelings. I love having a good time with everyone.”
As a freshman, Gonzalez was one of just four total players on the team to appear in all 21 games making 16 starts in his first year wearing scarlet and gray. He notched six goals and six assists to finish second overall on the team in points (18).
Those 18 points tied him for the third-highest by a freshman in team history, along with Danny Musovski (2014) and current head coach Rich Ryerson (1983). He also earned both All-WAC Freshman Team and WAC Honorable Mention.
“It’s something special to accomplish that,” Gonzalez said. “[Ryerson] would always joke around about how many goals he scored his freshmen year and throw out jokes like ‘oh, Marco I had the same number of goals as you as a defendant.’ It’s just a lot of good energy between the both of us.”
Heading into his sophomore year, Gonzalez was determined to do better and make his name known. He started in 20 games but appeared in all 21, and almost doubled his goals from 2017 with 10 for the season, placing him in the top five of WAC.
Not to mention, he also led the Rebels and was top-five in the WAC in points (23) and posted his first career hat trick against Evansville (Aug. 26). He recorded a team-high three game-winning goals, earning Second Team All-WAC and Third Team All-West Region by the United Soccer Coaches.
Junior year, Gonzalez started in all 19 games for the Rebels and tied for second on the team in both points (nine) and goals (three).
Four months after his third season with UNLV, the nation went on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which left Gonzalez questioning if he’d get a senior season with the team.
With a delayed senior season, Gonzalez appeared in all 11 games and made 10 starts for the Rebels. He was only able to register one assist, yet was second on the team in playing minutes (959) and total shots (17), with seven on goal.
Now, as a graduate student, Gonzalez has one extra season to play in scarlet and gray.
“I hope to gain a lot of new friendships. There’s a lot of new guys coming in and I want to develop a relationship with them. I want to win a WAC Championship,” Gonzalez said. “That’s the biggest goal for me since day one that I really want to bring to the team, and I just want to help us get to the top again because it’s been a few years since we’ve won a WAC title.”
This opportunity to play an additional season with the team allows Gonzalez to show off his skills with UNLV. The Rebels are starting the season off strong with two exceptional pre-season games to show their true potential.
UNLV tied (1-1) against UC Riverside and earned a remarkable win against Arizona Western (3-1).
In the conclusion of this season, not only will Gonzalez be leaving the Rebels but head coach Rich Ryerson plans to retire after coaching the team for 11 years. After tying for the third-highest goals by a freshmen, the two will get to leave the team together.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling. It’s definitely hard for both of us. You don’t know exactly what will happen after our season. I just know that whatever we find ourselves in we’re definitely gonna take advantage of what we’re involved in. It’s important for us to keep our relationship even after leaving the Rebels.”