The first touchdown catch of Tony Gonzalez's Boston College career came on 37-yard pass from Quinton Porter on a sun-kissed afternoon two years ago at Penn State. It was a revelation, since no one was certain that Gonzalez, then a redshirt freshman two years removed from Framingham High, possessed that type of game-breaking ability.
His second TD grab came last year at Notre Dame. Gonzalez stretched out in the end zone for a diving catch of a last-gasp 30-yard heave from Paul Peterson with 54 seconds left. It pinned the 24th-ranked Fighting Irish with a 24-23 loss. Fittingly, it came on the same day, Oct. 23, that the Red Sox, who drafted Gonzalez in the 16th round of the 2001 amateur baseball draft, hosted the Cardinals in Game 1 of the World Series.
But the third (a 31-yarder vs. Army), fourth (a 19-yarder vs. Virginia), and fifth (a 38-yarder vs. Wake Forest) scoring catches of his career? They all came at crucial times this season, all on home turf at Alumni Stadium, and they have helped Gonzalez establish a reputation as a big-play receiver for the 13th-ranked Eagles.
''He always seems to make big plays," said coach Tom O'Brien.
While he ranks third among BC receivers behind seniors Will Blackmon (28 catches, 288 yards) and Larry Lester (22 catches, 278 yards), the 5-foot-11-inch, 190-pound Gonzalez -- not to be confused with the Kansas City Chiefs' tight end of the same name -- has emerged as a sure-handed junior with 18 receptions for 280 yards, good for a team-leading 3 TDs and an average of 15.6 yards per catch.
''The more it happens, the more confidence I get and the more confidence the team has in me as a playmaker, a big-play guy," said Gonzalez, who'll likely be asked to make a few more big plays when BC (6-1 overall, 3-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) faces third-ranked Virginia Tech (7-0, 4-0) tomorrow night in a showdown at Blacksburg, Va. ''If they need a big play, they know they can go to me, as well as any other receiver on the team.
''But, yeah, it's starting to get into my head, as well as my teammates, that I'm capable of doing it. When the time comes and we need that big play, you don't have to shy away. Look my way."
''He's got great hands," said Porter. ''Of all the receivers, he's got the best hands and he's got great speed, which is a pretty good combination to have."
Sophomore backup QB Matt Ryan connected with Gonzalez on a 38-yard TD pass to spark a fourth-quarter rally in BC's 35-30 victory over Wake Forest Oct. 15. It capped a career day for Gonzalez, who made six catches for 104 yards, the most by a BC receiver this season.
''Tone's a great player," Ryan said. ''He catches the ball really well, and he runs really good routes. The combination of those two things really holds up in pressure situations. It's something you can always fall back on, running good routes and being able to catch the ball, and he's done both of them and he has the knack for making big plays."
Gonzalez showed that knack when he scored his first career TD on his second career catch.
''You look at the plays people make on their first [scoring] catches and it may not be against, like, a vaunted team," Gonzalez said. ''But my first two happened to be against those types of teams.
''It was exciting for me, but at the same time I wanted even more. My first year, it was at Penn State, the second game of the season, and I had one touchdown. But I ended up with one touchdown. It's not the fact that I wanted more touchdowns, I just wanted more touches.
''The second one, at Notre Dame, it was the same thing, too. It was later in the season, but I was just hoping that I could build off of it."
In any other year, Gonzalez's heroics at Notre Dame would have made headlines, but the World Series relegated him to the inside pages.
When the Sox went on to win it all, it occurred to Gonzalez, who had been projected as an outfielder, that he might have earned a World Series ring had he not decided to pursue a college football career.
''Yeah, it still goes through my mind, where I could be now," he said. ''But the whole thing with baseball, you never know where you could be. The four years I've spent here, I could've sat in Single A or Double A baseball. There's no guarantee that you'll be playing in the majors at any time."
When he was drafted as a high school senior, Gonzalez explored his options with the Sox.
''My whole plan going into contract negotiations was that it had to be good enough to give up a scholarship to a school like Boston College," he said. ''I just came to the decision that I was going to go to prep school [at Worcester Academy] and work my way here."
Any regrets? ''None," Gonzalez said. ''I mean, I've met great people here, made a lot of friends playing football, which was my first love as a sport. I have no regrets at all."
After making memorable catches in Happy Valley and South Bend, Gonzalez is hoping to make more in Blacksburg. BC has shown that Virginia Tech's ferocious defense can be susceptible to the big play, as was the case in the last meeting two years ago, when Peterson connected with Grant Adams on a 64-yard TD pass that helped the Eagles score a 34-27 victory over the 12th-ranked Hokies.
''I'm just hoping that the plays are in the game plan that allow us as a cast -- quarterback, running back, linemen, everyone -- to go make a big play," Gonzalez said. ''It's more or less execution on offense.
''We know that Virginia Tech is a great team and has an all-around offense, defense, and special teams. But I think we can play with them as we've shown in the past.
''I think if there are plays that call for us to go deep and make big plays -- knock on wood -- we'll keep making them."