BY CAREY HOFFMAN
Michael Munoz of Moeller ... Take away the name on the back of the uniform, the school name on the front, and, for a moment, all the expectations that automatically come with each.
'My goal is just to go out and have fun,' Michael Munoz says of playing football.
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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All that is left is a football player, preparing to play his senior year in high school, a level-headed kid who really doesn't see himself much differently than hundreds of other players around the Tristate who this weekend take on the challenge of their final year of high school football.
Put away national recruiting lists and take stock of an individual who plays because he likes to, who excels for his own reasons, certainly not to live up to the expectations other people may have for the son of an NFL Hall of Famer.
''From the first day he began playing, one thing that set him apart from me (in high school) was he talked about how he loved playing football, the passion he had for it,'' Anthony Munoz says of Michael. Michael, his dad believes, has natural gifts as an offensive lineman, both physical and in temperament and desire to improve.
Coach Steve Klonne on Munoz: 'It's going to be another 30 years before I coach somebody again of his ilk.'
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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Anthony is on the Moeller staff this year, helping to coach the offensive line, and together, father and son will enjoy the special experience that comes with a senior season.
''My goal is just to go out and have fun,'' Michael says of playing football.
He's adopted an approach where he doesn't worry about expectations, either his own or those of other people. ''A lot of players beat themselves up emotionally before they go out and play. I just look at this as a game.''
It's a basic philosophy that has served him well.
''I think he handles all the buildup around him as well as anyone can handle it,'' says Moeller coach Steve Klonne, with a conviction that convinces you he is not just offering up an empty endorsement.
Michael is a rare three-year starter at Moeller playing offensive tackle, always one of the glamour spots in the Crusader lineup. National recruiting experts consider Michael one of the top two or three offensive line prospects in the nation. Klonne calls Michael humble and quiet, but with the right kind of edge about him when he takes the field.
As for his ability, the coach can't help himself. ''He's the most athletic lineman you could imagine,'' Klonne says.
Last year, Michael played at about 305 pounds, but this year, he's backed down to around 280 to maximize his speed and endurance.
''He could honestly play just about any position on our team except for defensive back. He could play running back. He looks so good in practices running around -- he looks like a big tight end.''
Moeller has seriously considered trying Micheal at punter. He has earned the long snapper's job for Moeller this year, giving him the chance to hit the open field on punt coverage and Klonne expects he will be one of the first to get to potential punt returners.
Michael never played football until his ninth grade year, perhaps helping feed his desire to ultimately succeed. He doesn't remember much about watching his dad play for the Bengals (he does, however, vividly remember preseason trips to Wilmington for training camp and postseason trips to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl). But he did grow up working occasionally in the yard with his dad on footwork and hand-use techniques for the offensive line.
Michael played baseball, basketball, soccer, tennis and golf growing up. He showed promise in basketball, but stopped playing after being slowed by a football injury his freshman year. He nearly came back out for Moeller's state championship basketball team last winter and is considering finally playing again this winter.
In track, he's been a state qualifier as a freshman and a junior, finishing sixth in the shot put in Division I as a freshman and fifth last year.
Michael doesn't mind being an offensive lineman, but he wouldn't mind if he ever did a get chance to play with the ball in his hands.
''It's always been a dream of mine to go into the end zone,'' he says. ''Snapping in our scrimmage with Colerain the other night, I loved it. Maybe I'll get a chance to scoop up a fumble this year and take it in .''
Not in the name of glory, but in the name of fun.
''It's going to be another 30 years before I coach somebody again of his ilk,'' says Klonne. ''It's that same old story: you never really realize how good a guy was until after he's not there. That's going to be a hard realization for us after (Michael) is gone.''