While the decision to play Reggie Bonnafon, a first-year quarterback out of Louisville (Ky.) Trinity, or redshirt him was still an unknown to most observers, it shouldn't have come as much of a surprise when the 6-foot-3, 206-pound sensation took the field in the second quarter on Saturday night.
With the University of Louisville already establishing control of the game – leading 21-7 early in the second quarter – Bonnafon had his number called for the very first time as a Cardinal.
Making your first college appearance can make one nervous, especially for a quarterback. Having the butterflies in your stomach feeling is something that one who has been given the reigns of an offense can ill afford to have.
Bonnafon responded was calmness. His first play from scrimmage resulted in an 18-yard pass to Kai De La Cruz. Two plays later he ran to the left side for an 8-yard touchdown.
“The first completion felt pretty good and then it just started rolling from there,” Bonnafon said.
Bonnafon, who said he had a “good feeling” that he'd play against Murray State, would direct another touchdown drive just a few moments later. Starting the third quarter, Bonnafon would receive two additional series behind center in the second half with both also resulting in touchdowns.
A strong fall camp that saw him working with the veterans and first team within days, prepared Bonnafon for the opportunity. His comfort level with the offense and trust in the coaches allowed him to remain calm on the field.
“It's preparation, that's all it is,” he said. “I can't really explain it. It's the preparation that we put it in. We put in so much work. We grind every day. I didn't know what grind was until I got to Louisville, but since I've been here and started playing, once you get out there in the game atmosphere its just easy.”
“It was good to get him in.” said Petrino. “That was kind of a decision that we talked about all week long. Do we go ahead and play Reggie or do we try to hold on to a redshirt? We made the decision that we’re going to need him because it’s a long season so let’s stick him in the first series of the second quarter.”
The coaches decision to play the true freshman worked brilliantly. It was the type of outing any rookie quarterback would want. First series results in his first career rushing touchdown and then his second is capped off with his first career passing touchdown.
Despite being sacked, he remained poised in the pocket when finding Michaelee Harris for a 27-yard touchdown. He played more with an upperclassman demeanor than that of a first year college student.
“It was good to see the way he executed and threw the ball well,” Petrino continued. “He ran the ball real well and had a lot of confidence. That’s the thing I liked so much was the confidence. Then you could see the players rally around him.”
Bonnafon finished 8 of 11 for 112 yards and a touchdown, to go along with 22 yards and score on the ground. In doing so he placed his named next for former Cardinal great Teddy Bridgewater, becoming the first freshman quarterback to have three scores in a game since the NFL rookie had three against USF on Nov. 25, 2011. Bonnafon’s two rushing scores are the most by a first-year quarterback since Bridgewater had a pair against Connecticut on Nov. 19, 2011.
“Since the first day he came here I have been impressed with his maturity, his knowledge of the game, his willingness to study, and work hard,” Petrino said of Bonnafon.
Bonnafon's mature presence, despite his inexperience – he only started one season at Trinity – has helped him succeed quickly as a Cardinal.
“I think God just blessed me with that ability,” he explained. “I try not let things get to me and try to take things with a grain of salt and keep going. I think that's a God-given thing.”
While his debut is certainly one he'll cherish and a moment that Cardinal fans will long remember, Bonnafon has already started looking forward. Instead of relishing in the moment, which comes with plenty of post-game attention from fans and media alike, he says it is more important “being humble.”
“I can't let this get to me,” he said. “I need to know that this week is over with. We need to focus on Virginia and try to get better next week.”