By Daryl Ruiter | 92.3 The Fan

BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – Rookie Kicker Zane Gonzalez has a new appreciation for receiving the Lou Groza award last year as college football’s best kicker.

The seventh-round pick from Arizona State has gotten quite the history lesson since the Cleveland Browns picked him 224th overall in April as he now finds himself in a heated competition with veteran Cody Parkey to make the team that Groza once made great.

“It’s a pretty special feeling,” Gonzalez said Monday. “I didn’t really realize it was that big of a deal until I got here and I saw Lou Groza right at the front door. It’s awesome to look back and know that did I win that award and now I’m here.”

As players make their way to the Browns training facility in Berea they turn off of Front Street onto Lou Groza Boulevard. When they arrive, a massive mural of Groza adorns the two-story facade next to the players’ entrance.

Groza, a 9-time Pro Bowl selection, led the Browns to 4 AAFC championships and NFL championships in 1950, 1954 and 1955. Nicknamed ‘The Toe,’ Groza was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974, his No. 76 is retired by the club and he’s in the ring of honor at FirstEnergy Stadium.

With the Browns still in the infantile stages of their rebuild there may be no more important position on the team than kicker – besides the punter. With an offense that lacks established weapons in the passing game, the Browns will depend on the run to help them score points in 2017.

And their kicker too, making the competition between Parkey and Gonzalez so important.

“I think it is kind of close,” head coach Hue Jackson said Sunday. “I am not going to say which way it is, but at the same time, they are still working through it.

“That thing is going to show itself pretty soon.”

Both Gonzalez and Parkey have faced adversity in their lives.

Parkey suffered a groin injury in Week of the 2015 season and was placed on injured reserve before the Eagles waived him last September allowing the Browns to eventually pick him up. Following his parents’ separation, Gonzalez lived primarily with his father where they at times shared space in a 1-bedroom apartment with his grandmother, dad, brother and sister.

After a rocky debut in Week 3 last season down in Miami that saw Parkey miss 3 field goals –
including the would-be game-winner as time expired in the fourth quarter – Parkey made 20 of the 22 attempts that followed, which is why he was surprised when the Browns drafted Gonzalez.

“I was kind of taken aback, but I was reassured that it was going to be open competition and for me it just kind of makes me want to work harder, just to prove people wrong about me,” Parkey said.

Special teams coordinator Chris Tabor has been charting every kick and kickoff since camp began.

“We know how we do each and every day. We have both been kicking phenomenally,” Gonzalez said. “It is really hard to say if anybody has the edge right now. The last few days, everybody has pretty much been hitting the balls the same. When you have two kickers going 100 percent, it is hard to complain about that.”

Gonzalez holds 6 FBS records including the all-time leader in field goals made and points by a kicker. He was also the first in FBS history to make 20 or more field goals in each of his 4 seasons while recording 126 touchbacks on kickoffs in 2 seasons.

Parkey was named to the Pro Bowel as a rookie in 2014 after scoring 150 points while setting Eagles single-season franchise records by hitting 4 50-yard kicks and 48 touchbacks.

Tabor will only be able to keep one, and it’s on him to help the team keep the player most worthy of getting an opportunity to fill Groza’s shoes.

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