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JAMES BONELLI: California native did not foresee ND career path

Pat Leonard | Friday, November 18, 2005

Former Irish coach Tyrone Willingham let his team score, and score, and score against his former Stanford squad on Nov. 29, 2003 in Palo Alto, Calif.

Some critics took umbrage with Notre Dame’s 57-7 whooping, but offensive lineman James Bonelli must have approved of the wide margin. The then-sophomore lineman saw his first game action of his Irish football career – a 2:26 minute stretch.

“It was a lot of fun,” Bonelli said. “You finally got to get out there and see what it was like to play again. Because I didn’t get a chance to play earlier, it was pretty exciting. So I made it worthwhile and tried to hit someone besides my own team.”

Bonelli (6-foot-5, 280 pounds) was used to hitting his own teammates because he had been relegated to scout team, where he has played for the majority of his four-year career. The senior redshirted as a freshman and has one year of eligibility remaining if he decides to return.

This season, as Notre Dame’s offense has consistently distanced opponents late into game, Bonelli has seen a combined 9:43 of action. He has played against Purdue, BYU, Tennessee and Navy this season, with his longest stint coming in a 4:58 time period against the Cougars.

He has not decided on future plans to return or depart Notre Dame, but Bonelli did intimate his feelings about his current situation.

“[Playing on the scout team] is not as rewarding as I’d like it to be,” Bonelli said. “And it’s not that much fun. Actually it’s not fun any day. Most days, you’ve got to just bear down and do what you gotta do.”

Bonelli’s attitude reflects the frustration of a highly-recruited prospect who did not fit well into the situation at the University of his choice.

“I was getting recruited by USC and a lot of West coast schools,” Bonelli said. “I was getting recruited pretty much all over. I got about 30 scholarships coming out of high school. I just figured Notre Dame was the best fit for me personally, socially and athletically.”

Being a Camarillo, Calif. native, Bonelli wanted to distance himself from home but ensure himself of an opportunity to see the field and achieve academic success. Notre Dame seemed like the logical choice.

“I didn’t want to just be a half-hour drive or so from home, because USC was my second choice,” Bonelli said. “When I came to visit Notre Dame, I really liked [the coaches under former head coach Bob Davie]. I liked the school. Since I was young, I always grew up watching Notre Dame.”

Bonelli has had the opportunity to see the field during a record-breaking, successful Irish season. But his individual career has not panned out the way he planned.

“Football hasn’t really gone the way I’ve wanted it to,” Bonelli said. “It’s been a good experience overall. I haven’t been disappointed, but I think it was the right choice – school-wise.

Bonelli is a double major in sociology and computer applications. He said he is currently contemplating whether to get his masters degree.