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Bonner refuses to allow pain to hinder journey

| Friday, November 9, 2018

For senior defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner, playing football at Notre Dame was a lifelong goal.

In a letter he wrote to his future self in eight-grade, the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder from Chesterfield, Missouri, noted, “Hopefully you played hard enough to go to Notre Dame.”

In the summer going into his freshman season in 2014, the possibility of playing for the Fighting Irish seemed slightly out of reach. According to Bonner, “Notre Dame was definitely on my radar, but I don’t really know if I was on their radar.”

Annie Smierciak
Irish graduate student defensive lineman Jonathan Bonner fights off an offensive lineman during Notre Dame’s 19-14 win over Pitt on Oct. 13.

After spending the summer traveling to different college camps across the country, Bonner was on his way toward Chicago after a camp at the University of Tennessee, when he received a call from his grandmother making sure that he was going to the camp at Notre Dame.

“After the trip to Tennessee I wasn’t really feeling like going to the camp at Notre Dame, but my grandma told me it was already paid for and I had to go, so I said okay, I had to do it for grandma,” he said.

Bonner ended up attending the camp and participating in the defensive lineman challenge. At the camp, Bonner noted, “I went out there and started doing my thing, and started catching the eyes of the coaches as we were going through drills throughout the day.”

The coaching staff eventually put him through a couple of extra drills, and at the time, Bonner was put up against guys like Alex Bars, Quenton Nelson and Jerry Tillery — when he was still an offensive lineman — and was winning the battle in the trenches, further turning the heads of the coaching staff. For Bonner, he just loved practicing at the school he dreamed of going to.

“I went to the camp and after they showed me around campus,” Bonner said. “Notre Dame had always been my dream school; while I was being recruited I wasn’t really sure where I wanted to go, but Notre Dame always was the one school I knew I would go to if given the opportunity.”

Three days later, Bonner got the call from coach Kelly offering him a spot on the roster. He committed the same day.

Bonner also had family members play football at Notre Dame. His uncle, Dan Knott, is a former Irish running back who played on the 1977 National Championship team. Bonner’s cousin, Sergio Brown, also attended Notre Dame and spent some time as a free safety in the NFL for the Patriots, Colts, Falcons, Jaguars and Bills.

“I’ve always had a connection with Notre Dame, and I’m so happy it just so happened to work out in my situation,” Bonner said.

When asked to describe the feeling he gets every time he puts on his jersey and runs out of the tunnel at Notre Dame Stadium, Bonner was effusive.

“Oh man. It’s a special one, and I feel like it’s something that you don’t get running out of a tunnel at every school. I know there’s a lot of history behind our school and our football team, and being behind that history and tradition along with the high standard that Notre Dame has, I really cherish running out onto that field every time, and take a lot of pride each time I put on my uniform,” he said.

Bonner spent his first three seasons moving up in the Irish depth chart, and despite breaking his right wrist three games into the 2017 season, Bonner put off the surgery, swallowed his pain, used some alternative pain relieving medicine like hemp pre-rolls and had his best season by far as a member of the Irish. He started all 13 games in 2017, recording 30 total tackles — 15 of which were solo tackles — and added two sacks and three and a half tackles for loss to his resume, which earned him the team’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year award.

After graduating with a degree in IT management from the Mendoza College of Business in December of 2017, Bonner faced a daunting decision: utilize his fifth and final season of eligibility and return in 2018, or take the degree and secure a job in Chicago to support his mother, who is undergoing her third battle with cancer. It is therefore no surprise that she is the most influential person in Bonner’s life.

“She’s always been there for me, and she always tells me I’m like her twin because we kind of look alike, she understands me, and she knows what I’m thinking before I even tell her anything,” Bonner said. “She knows how to handle and move me along when I’m having tougher days, and she never pressures me to do anything I don’t want to do and is always 100 percent supportive of me.”

Bonner’s mother, Consuelo Hampton, is a single mother, doctor, a huge fan of Notre Dame and a two-time survivor of breast cancer. She is the ultimate fighter, and has served as an incredible example for Jonathan and his sister Cherokee.

Consuelo’s life has been full of obstacles, and in October of 2017, she was diagnosed with endometrial (uterine) cancer — her third bout with cancer.

Bonner got his fight, his love for Notre Dame, his facial features and plenty more from his mother, who would go to Notre Dame games frequently with her father, Elton Hampton in the ‘80s. “Seeing her fight makes me want to fight even more,” Bonner said.

Bonner’s mom is the one who encouraged him to continue with his football career, and is the reason why he returned for his last year of eligibility in the 2018 season. Bonner calls his mom two-to-three times every day, and visits her frequently. Bonner doesn’t have to call, he doesn’t have to visit, but he is what keeps his mother going, and she is what keeps him going.

It is clear that Notre Dame has helped Jonathan not only on the football field, but also in becoming a better man, having been instilled with an unwavering work ethic and great listening skills.

“Working hard doesn’t mean anything if you aren’t listening to your coaches, and I’ve been trying to make myself useful in every capacity possible to make my coaches want to put me out on the field,” Bonner said.

In terms of his future, Bonner still wants to train and do everything possible to pursue a career in football on the next level,

“I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of good things on the field so far and I’m going to train hard, and possibly attend some Senior Bowls to grab that attention of some scouts over the summer. If football doesn’t work out, I have a degree in IT management and I love and have a good background in technology, so I’d be happy to do anything with that as well,” he said.

When Bonner’s not on the football field, he’s a regular at Ruth Chris steakhouse on Thursdays for the weekly defensive lineman dinners. “It’s a fun atmosphere, everyone is kind of laid back and the burgers are pretty amazing,” noted Bonner, who also always enjoys when Wiz Khalifa comes on the speakers.

For the graduate student defensive lineman, the bond he has formed with his unit will carry forward for a long time.

“I think I’ve had a lot of memorable experiences while here at Notre Dame, but one thing that I’m going to take away when I leave here is the brotherhood that we’ve created in the d-line room,” Bonner said. “We’ve been through the ups and downs of this program together, and I think that we really created a strong bond with one another.”

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