Saturday, November 29, 1997
Moeller's Munoz has name, game

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Michael Munoz

Anthony Munoz

Anthony Munoz admits defeat. He can no longer handle his son with hands alone, and he has stopped trying.

''I have a pad that I kept,'' he said. ''I use that now because I will not let Michael hit me in the chest. It just hurts that much.''

Football's finest offensive tackle has a worthy and sometimes wondrous heir. Michael Anthony Munoz Jr. is a chip off the old blocker, a Moeller sophomore who doubles as a solar eclipse. At 6-foot-6 1/2, 290 pounds, he has already outgrown his famous father, and the doctors think he isn't done. He might reach 6-9, 340 before he is finished.

In a larger sense, however, Michael Munoz has only just begun. Tonight's state championship game against Canton McKinley will not define his football career so much as it will serve as a preview of coming attractions. Size notwithstanding, he remains a work in progress.

Before the season, Michael Munoz' main hope was to be good enough to make the Moeller varsity. Now, he has been named All-State, the only sophomore so honored on Ohio's Division I team. Michael Munoz has what the scouts like to refer to as a ''high ceiling.'' That is to say, as good as he is now, he is bound to get better.

''We knew he was something special,'' Moeller coach Steve Klonne said. ''But we didn't know it was going to be this soon. If he stays healthy, with as much mobility as he has, I think the sky would be the limit for him.''

Any son of Anthony Munoz would pursue football with lofty expectations. The father played in 11 Pro Bowls in his 13 seasons with the Bengals - a record equaled only by Jerry Rice and Reggie White. Barring a sudden surge of stupidity, the Pro Football Hall of Fame will formalize Munoz' immortality on Jan. 24.

Heredity gave Michael Munoz a huge head start in sports. He weighed just 8 pounds at birth, but every weigh-in since has been off the charts. On his first day at Moeller, he wore a size 19 shoe.

''He got a nickname in fifth or sixth grade,'' Anthony Munoz said. ''They called him 'Jungle Jim,' because in basketball season all the kids would hang on him during the game.''

Size set Michael Munoz apart at an early age, but it is only a part of his equation for excellence. The father may have been the most nimble giant ever to play on the offensive line, and the son has started to surpass him.

The torch may have passed in a game of pickup basketball last year. Playing on opposite sides, and assigned to guard each other, Anthony Munoz gained position on his son with a smart drop step and prepared to put the ball in the basket.

The noise he heard next still echoes in his ears. It was the sound Michael made in leaping over his father and pinning the ball against the backboard.

''He thought he was going to get an easy layup,'' Michael said. ''I gave him a hard time about it. I told him, 'You can't lay it up like that any more.' ''

Michael still defers to his father in football matters, and has resisted his challenge to put on the pads and scrimmage in the backyard.

''I think,'' he explained, ''he has too much experience.''

Herein lies Michael Munoz' advantage over other large high school linemen: His teacher wrote the textbook. Blocking techniques Anthony Munoz mastered over many seasons were taught to his son years before he could put them to use. Michael Munoz is consequently a more polished player than was his father at age 16.

''We really didn't have the technical teaching that they have now,'' Anthony Munoz said. ''Back then, you were taught several steps and you'd just get after people. It was a 'Get it done however you can' type of deal.

''I think at Michael's age, he's far ahead. For a sophomore in high school, he's really progressed with his technique. He's doing things that are very impressive to me. More than anything else, it's the intensity that he has as a big kid. A lot of times, when you get big kids, they're kind of passive. He wants to get after it on every play.''

Klonne detected a strong competitive streak when he watched Michael Munoz put the shot in the Greater Catholic League track meet last spring. He was new to the event, a freshman battling seniors, and he fell behind at the beginning.

''All of a sudden, you could see the competitive juices starting to flow,'' Klonne said. ''His next throw was 54-8 or 54-9, and he wound up winning the meet. When I saw him doing that, I knew technically it would take him a while to catch on (in football), but that he was special.''

Michael Munoz' learning curve has not been as steep as Klonne first suspected. What he sees, he is usually able to assimilate. Some years ago, Anthony Munoz took his son to see Michael Chang playing tennis. When father and son next swatted balls around, Michael Munoz managed to mimic Chang's spin.

Anthony Munoz was the most modest of athletes, a superstar who evinced no ego. But he relishes his children's accomplishments without restraint. While his son chases a state championship tonight in Massillon, his daughter, Michelle, will be making her high school basketball debut for Mason. The parents are grieved they can not go to both games.

They are sitting in a booth at the Pizza Tower restaurant, preparing to attend a pep rally. Anthony Munoz is wearing a Moeller cap and a blue and gold pullover. His wife, DeDe, arrives in a sweater embroidered with the words, ''Moeller Mom.'' They are like a lot of parents before big events - a little bit hokey, a lot proud.

''We want the best for our kids,'' Anthony Munoz said. ''If Michael ends up a 22-time Pro Bowler, that would be great.''