"Bama it is!"

Richland Northeast defensive end Chris Bonds is one of the most likeable guys around. When he talks about overcoming two serious knee injuries sustained in high school games and how he hasn't let it deter his football dreams, as well as his quest for academic excellence, you begin to really cheer for the young man's success because when he gets there you know he'll have earned every bit of it.

"My knee injury as a junior was more serious than the one I had as a senior," said Chris Bonds. "I remember in the game I just fell over. They rushed me to a table, and my body was bigger than it, so my leg fell off the table. I looked down and my leg was perpendicular to the floor at the knee. Then I kinda freaked out a little bit."

The injury was a torn ACL that required reconstructive surgery. Bonds fought back to rehab the knee for a strong senior campaign, but was sidelined for much of the season with a torn meniscus.

As a tribute to the type of player Bonds is, even after missing bulks of his junior and senior seasons, he was still selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American game in San Antonio, and had dozens of scholarship offers from major colleges. It had the makings of a Hollywood story.

"I love California. It's so beautiful," said Bonds. "You look at USC with Pete Carroll. They're in a big bowl game every year. They're always having players drafted. I thought that's where I wanted to be."

The University of Alabama found itself in a recruiting war for Bonds' services with two old rivals from the past, USC and Notre Dame.

"When I got injured, USC stopped calling. I was hurt, but during the recruiting process you learn a lot about yourself. I started thinking to myself it wasn't where I'm supposed to be."

"A week after I finished taking all of my visits, we had a cook-out. My parents and coaches and I talked about my final decision. My Mom was worried about there being a spot left for me."

"One thing though, was that all of the schools recruiting me were top-notch as far as offering a good education. It came down to Notre Dame and Alabama. With Notre Dame I just wasn't feeling it, the Weis thing and being up North."

"My Mom really loved the coaching staff at Alabama. After we talked it over for awhile, everybody came to the same conclusion, "'Bama it is!"

Bonds was on campus this past fall where he got to meet some of his future teammates.

"I was there when we whooped up on Ole Miss," Bonds said. "I met Luther Davis, who was my host, and liked him a lot. The atmosphere was great. There were fans shouting out my name, which came as a surprise. The stadium was nice. It was cool to watch."

"I got a little awe-struck thinking 'that's going to be me next year playing in front of 92,000 people.' I get nervous just talking in front of class," Bonds said laughingly.

"At the Army All-American game I got to meet a couple of recruits. It was easy to find D.J. Fluker, he was the biggest dude there."

Bonds knows that success starts at the top.

"Coach Saban's a great guy to be around. He's a lot like Pete Carroll in that they're such powerful coaches at the top of their game. You see "60 Minutes" doing pieces on those guys."

"He (Saban) didn't let the tradition at Alabama die. He's done so much in so little time. I tell people that all these (school) presidents firing their coaches are just jealous of Saban, and want a change. But not too many guys like Saban out there."

"So many people love the school. They're a lot of fans here in South Carolina. I get alumni coming up to me all the time saying 'hey I graduated from there in '85'. It's such a huge fanbase. The store here in Columbia are all sold out of the Alabama stuff, have to get mine off the internet."

As June approaches, Bonds begins to prepare himself physically for the rigors of training camp.

"I'm working out with a friend at a sports complex called Athletic Republic," he said. "He's teaching me a lot to get in better shape. The hard part is I've had to give up a lot of foods I love. But, I'm working really hard on my strength and conditioning."

"I had someone tell me 90-percent of success on the field is what you've done in the weight room, so I've been hitting the weights everyday to get bigger, stronger. I know I'm just 18 and will be going to camp with men."

This is something Bonds is used to, he was a four-year varsity letterman at his high school.

"I was a 14 year old going against 18 year olds then, so it's just about starting the cycle all over again," he added.

"In all honesty I'm bringing in high expectations. If the coaches want me to come in and start, I'd love to do that, if needed. But what I'm worried about is taking the time to transition to college life."

"I don't really know how a redshirt works, but I'll talk to Coach Saban and Coach Burns about it. Considering my knee injuries and wanting to make the transition easier, it sounds good to me. But right now I just don't know."

"I can play defensive end inside or outside. I can line up at linebacker off the corner and pass rush, or stay in near the middle in short yard situations and push the pile. But I'll do wherever they ask me to. I'm coachable."

Bonds has excelled in the classroom, reporting an SAT score of 1600 and a 3.7 GPA.

"Everything should be squared away," Bonds said. "I've registered with the NCAA Clearinghouse. I'm really just excited about being able to go to college. I'll be the first in my family to graduate from a large university. Both of my parents went to technical schools."

In fact Bonds decided not to graduate early just to take a Physics class.

"I'd like to study Mechanical Engineering or Structural Engineering (at Alabama). I went and talked to the Dean of Engineering when I was there," he explained. "I'm also looking at Sports Kinesiology or Physiology to become an athletic trainer."

Bonds plans to enroll June 1st for summer classes.

"Coach Burns came by my house with the signing day papers and explained everything to me," he commented.

Bonds says he was No. 99 in high school, but doesn't care what number they give him at UA.

"I'd love to have 99, but I think the kicker has that number, so that doesn't really matter to me," he said.

When I told him this is kicker, Leigh Tiffin's last year, Bonds just laughed. "Now you got me excited."

'Bama fans are the ones who should get excited with the signature of this talented "old fashion young guy" as he calls himself, from the Palmetto State.

Bonds was recognized as All-State on defense as a junior and senior in 4A, and All-Area. Entering his senior season he was rated the No. 1 defensive end in the state of South Carolina. He didn't want us to leave out he even got a medal in a spelling bee.

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