Athlete Spotlight: Leonel Gonzalez


Photo by: Kei'yona Jordon

Leonel Gonzalez looks forward to the tennis season after COVID-19 made travel from Mexico to the U.S. difficult.

After facing enormous adversity with COVID-19 at the start of his first college season, Leonel Gonzalez, a native of Morelia, Mexico, and a freshman business major on the FMU men’s tennis team, is finally at FMU and ready to make an impact on the team.

“Last year, I didn’t play many tournaments because of COVID-19,” Gonzalez said. “I also had to stop training for about five months.”

Despite having to stay home last semester, Gonzalez is now in Florence and happy to be here.

While in Mexico, Gonzalez worked with an agency to find a school in the U.S. where he could pursue a degree while continuing to play the sport he loves. He communicated with many schools through the agency, but his decision became clear when he met Garth Thomson, head coach of the tennis at FMU.

“I was talking with many coaches, and one of them was Garth,” Gonzalez said. “I liked him very much. Also, in the beginning of the process, I chose eight states and one of them was South Carolina.”

One of his teammates, senior Mauricio Guerrero, is also from Mexico and reached out to Gonzalez to make him feel more at ease.

Gonzalez has high hopes for this season and ambitious goals for himself and the program.

“I know that this team has qualified for the semifinals in the tournament, so I want to work with all of my teammates and help get that again,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez had a great start in their opening weekend, where he went 1:1 in his solo matches, losing to Bluefield State College (a historically strong tennis program) and winning against Coker University.

Tennis has been an important part of Gonzalez’s life since he was 11. Several members of his family were tennis players, so it is only fitting that he adopted the racquet himself.

“I was in a [soccer] club in Mexico, but I was playing soccer,” Gonzalez said. “My dad used to play tennis, so once I went to play with him, I kept playing.”

Years of hard work went into his game, eventually leading him to huge success in the “under 18” category in his country. In tennis, players participate in tournaments and accumulate points, which determine ranking and status. Gonzalez managed to earn enough points to rank in the top 16 of the country.

“I played many tournaments and was one of the top 16 players in Mexico,” Gonzalez said. “I played so many tournaments that year and I got really good results, so I was named in the top three.”

His abilities created many opportunities for him, even before his appearance at FMU. Gonzalez was able to travel to play internationally. At 17, Gonzalez lived in Germany for three months and played tournaments with a team there.

“My best friend, her mom is German,” Gonzalez said. “They moved from Mexico to Germany and played for one club there, so she contacted me with the coach there. They asked me if I could go to play with them and they offered me housing and food. I could even travel a little bit during the day there. I also had teammates from Italy and France.”

This experience prepared him for college, as he once again moved to another country to play tennis with a team of strangers—this time with COVID-19 as a factor.

“Two years ago, I was playing in Germany,” Gonzalez said. “It was the same. It was a tennis team, about six players. I had an idea of how it was going to be.”

Currently, Gonzalez participates in team practices and weights, utilizing his free time to talk to family and friends back home. It has been difficult to keep active, but Gonzalez’s love for the game trumps all else.

“I have a lot of fun when I’m playing,” Gonzalez said.

You can find Gonzalez  and the FMU men’s tennis on the courts at FMU, the Dr. Eddie Floyd Florence Tennis Center or at an away game, playing to win for the Patriots.