Kansas City, Mo. — Two older boys who had bullied him growing up were hunting Tony Gonzalez.
He was years away from becoming an All-Pro tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs. On this day, he was just a frightened kid, running behind a wall and hiding.
"I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I was so scared," he recalled. "My heart was just pounding."
The person who finally found him was someone who loved him.
"I saw the look in my mother's eyes," he said. "I knew that she knew what was going on."
His mother and older brother had set out to find him after he'd disappeared during junior high school graduation ceremonies, an event his longtime tormentors had made a special point to attend.
"I've read that your life can be boiled down to a couple of key instances, a couple of key moments," Gonzalez said. "That was a key moment for me. My whole family came walking around that corner. It was a life change, a transformation in a moment of crisis.
"I was scared, but I was also angry. I thought, 'OK, I'm not taking crap from anybody. I'm never going to back down again,' and I haven't."
Now Gonzalez is sharing his experiences in a book for children entitled "Catch and Connect," which also details other parts of a life that's taken him from a tough neighborhood in Huntington Beach, Calif., to stardom in the NFL.
Through the book and personal appearances, he hopes to help youngsters cope with bullies in ways that he never could.
"They tell me about their experiences. I tell them to let somebody know if they're being bullied," he said. "But I know that's not easy. You don't want to look like a sissy. I remember how ashamed I felt.
"I tell them, 'Talk it out first. You'd be amazed at what you can get by being nice to somebody.'"
Bullying is a serious social problem nationwide, and not necessarily confined to boys. Research has shown that self-esteem issues often follow bullied kids into adulthood -- and they also appear more likely to be dominant and abusive grown-ups.
After his mother discovered him cowering behind a wall, Gonzalez was assigned to a different school from the ones the bullies attended.
Three years later, he'd grown into one of the best high school athletes in California, standing almost 61/2 feet tall and weighing almost 250 pounds.
One afternoon he stopped at a service station near his home. Guess who else was there?
In another chance encounter, the second bully seemed too scared even to look his former victim in the face. He, too, was contemptuously laughed off.
"I really believe everything happens for a reason," Gonzalez said. "What happened to me that day behind that wall made me what I am today."
He has no idea what the bullies are doing or how they turned out. Nor does he know whether they ever flip on the TV and see the kid they once terrorized grown into manhood, hailed as one of the finest football players of his day and enjoying a life filled with success.
"I still remember their names," Gonzalez said. "I hope they remember mine."