Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 10, 2018

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 20 of 55 SEPT. 10, 2018 21 back on the Jan. 15 deadline date, and it was right about then that Bon- ner felt secure in his heart to return as well with his mother's prodding. "When I heard he was coming back I had already kind of made my deci- sion that I was going to pull the trig- ger and come back," Bonner said. "It was like a confirmation for me. We both know what lies ahead for us and what we want to achieve here at Notre Dame." Bonner underwent wrist surgery shortly after the 21-17 victory versus LSU in the Citrus Bowl, and enrolled in a new graduate program in global affairs for the spring semester. "Knowing the kind of guy Bonner is and his dedication to the program day in and day out — and specifi- cally this university — the decision didn't shock me at all once I saw him working here one day," said fifth- year senior center and team captain Sam Mustipher. "I'm sure [his mother 's health] weighed on him heavily, and I can't even imagine what that was like go- ing through every day. "The type of guy he is, though, most of us really didn't even notice." Bonner didn't partake in contact work while conva- lescing during the spring, but was uplifted to return to the game he still loved. "Jonathan Bonner wasn't done playing football in his heart," said Elston, also the associate head coach, earlier this year. However, Elston understood why Bonner might have felt an urge to get away from it last November. Going to practice every day with a broken wrist, competing regularly against the nation's best and most ferocious guard (Quenton Nelson), and won- dering whether the rock of your life can pull through some more severe health issues can take a toll on a per- son. "It doesn't sound all that good to come back for another year and do the same thing — unless there's something at the end of the road," Elston said. Upon further review in January, Bonner recognized how he didn't want to squander the investments he had made into football. "I didn't have the starting role going into last season, and when I thought about it I was, 'I earned a starting role here with one less hand than I thought I had. That was a huge accomplishment doing that,'" he said. "Going through fall camp against Quenton Nelson and Mike Mc- Glinchey … knowing that I was able to compete then and now seeing where this takes me in the future, I'm really excited about it." He admitted that the mental fa- tigue might have worn him down last year even more than the physi- cal. "It's a struggle when you're going against the best in the country every day and you have a handicap," he said. "I'm working hard every day, but I'm not seeing the big improve- ments that I think I should — and then I came to found out that I liter- ally couldn't get better. "I kept grinding it out and it ended up paying off. Now I can really ad- vance my game having another ap- pendage to work with, and see what I can do now when I'm getting my hands on people, shedding block- ers." ARMED FOR MORE BATTLES Shifting to nose guard while Til- lery moved to three-technique also should take better advantage of both of their strengths. "He's such a tactician with his hands that I think he can really make a huge impact at the nose," Elston said of Bonner's position switch. "One thing I like is it's really reac- tionary, so you can immediately off the snap be on the center," Bonner said. "I have my hands up real fast. On that initial contact you can get an advantage by being explosive there." Best of all, his mother has been recovering well from her Febru- ary surgery and is back to a work- ing schedule. Meanwhile, Bonner is expanding his own graduate-level education while taking courses in lithic technology and digital forensics — with Mustipher in the same class — among others. If Bonner had his wish, his mother would have never had to go through the ordeals she had, but he tries to appreciate the mutual benefits both have had as inspirations for each other. "It made her stronger, and it made me stronger coming back," he ex- plained. "There was a point when I had my surgery this winter when we were both in recovery. We had some time to see other get better, and it was helpful for both of us. "I think I made her stronger be- cause she knew that I had things still to accomplish and how it was a struggle for me to make that big of a decision to return. "I've had football in my life for so long and almost walked away from the sport but realized that I can be better. She took it like she can get better at what she's doing also — and that would be a form of healing. "It's almost like a loop where when one person takes a step forward then the other person takes a step forward too. We're kind of stepping together." Bonner is better armed for new battles in more ways than one. ✦ Not Always Taking The Fifth Jonathan Bonner enrolled with 21 other recruits in 2014, and 16 of them could have had a fifth-year of eligibility this season after getting redshirted. However, only six did return to Notre Dame: Bonner, a school-record quartet of fifth-year captains in center Sam Mustipher, guard Alex Bars, linebacker Drue Tranquill and punter Tyler Newsome, plus tight end Nic Weishar. Two partook in spring drills before opting to use their fifth season elsewhere as graduate transfers: defensive end Jay Hayes (Georgia) and cornerback Nick Watkins (Houston). Nose tackle Pete Mokwuah (Wagner) did so prior to spring. Quarterback DeShone Kizer turned pro after his junior year, and guard Quenton Nelson was the No. 6 overall pick in last spring's NFL Draft. Five others either transferred elsewhere — although receivers Justin Brent (Nevada) and Corey Holmes (Morgan State) did get their Notre Dame degrees — retired from football after graduating (guard Jimmy Byrne and nose tackle Daniel Cage), or transferred after redshirting as a freshman (de- fensive end Jhonny Williams). — Lou Somogyi "Now I can really advance my game having another appendage to work with, and see what I can do now when I'm getting my hands on people, shedding blockers." BONNER ON BEING ABLE TO PLAY WITH TWO HEALTHY HANDS IN 2018

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