Notre Dame football recruiting: Commit Bonner once a longshot, now a legacy
Jonathan Bonner’s connections to Notre Dame will come together on Saturday.
Committed to Notre Dame’s 2014 class, the St. Louis defensive end will enter Notre Dame Stadium holding a pledge to the Irish for the first time. He’ll also reunite with his uncle, Dan Knott, a reserve tailback at
Notre Dame in the 1970s, who will return to campus with fellow members of the '73 national championship team to be recognized at the game for their 40th anniversary.
It will be a surreal moment for the high school prospect and his family.
"I'm going to be like a kid in a candy store,” Knott said. “Coming back to celebrate our 40th anniversary of the national championship this weekend, and then to have your nephew there at the same time getting ready to go into the school next year, it doesn't get any better than that.”
A few short months ago, the chance of Bonner playing at Notre Dame was little more than a longshot. The prospect from Parkway Central High had barely heard from the Irish coaching staff. But because of his connections to the program, he decided to travel to South Bend in June for a camp to showcase his skills.
Bonner impressed and talk of an offer started before he headed back to St. Louis. Days later he would talk on the phone with his recruiter, safeties coach Bob Elliott, and head coach Brian Kelly. An offer was extended, and he responded with a verbal commitment.
“I was kind of in between on going to the camp or not because they hadn't shown any interest, but since it was a family school, I just went ahead and went up there,” Bonner said.
Bonner exemplified a recruit sitting under the radar. When he committed to Notre Dame, he didn’t even have a ranking on Rivals.com.
He turned the heads of the coaching staff while camping at ND, and that’s all that mattered for Bonner.
“It was like the rest of the camps. Everyone had their people that they were looking at, then I'd come in and do what I'm used to doing,” Bonner said. “It was a good outcome. The offer coming as soon as it did really was a surprise because it was my dream school.”
Bonner has been on a steady climb of improvement since taking over as a starter three games into his sophomore year. Soon after, Parkway Central head coach Mark Goldenberg realized the talent he had playing defensive end for him.
“He kept getting bigger and stronger,” Goldenberg said. “Last year he had a phenomenal year. It was somewhere in between his sophomore and junior season that I knew he would be my next Division I player."
Parkway Central opponents knew plenty about Bonner last year and through three games this season have made sure to throw plenty of attention his way this season. Last season, Bonner started getting used to the ball going to the other side of the field. This season, he’s learning to deal with double teams even on pass plays.
“He can beat double teams as well as one-on-one,” Goldenberg said. “He opens stuff up for other guys. He's so unselfish that he doesn't care if he's getting the sack or creating a sack. As long as we are productive defensively, he's happy."
The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Bonner did have his eyes on multiple sacks per game, but has adjusted expectations after learning how opposing offenses are treating him. He has still managed to compile 14 tackles, three tackles for a loss, three sacks and a fumble recovery in limited action in three blowout wins. He refuses to be deterred.
“I did have a goal of two or three sacks per game, but it's kind of broken apart in the first couple games because I've been getting double-teamed on pass rushes,” Bonner said. ‘I just have to work through some adversity and try to have strong performances every game.”
At Saturday’s game, the pressure will fade away as he takes in a game at Notre Dame Stadium as a visitor, but a year from now it will be game on.
*DE Jonathan Bonner (2014 commit)
*WR Justin Brent (2014 commit)
*LB Drue Tranquill (2014 offer)
*LB Justin Hilliard (2015 offer)
*QB Jack Beneventi (2015 offer)
*QB Noah Wezensky (2016 prospect)