University of Louisville football coach Bobby Petrino has said this year’s team is full of high character guys, making them a joy to coach.
One of those very special players is Reggie Bonnafon.
Born and raised in Louisville, Bonnafon played at Trinity High School and embodies what a true Cardinal fan likes to see – a love for his team and school, excitement to help the Cardinals to victory and a hometown spirit.
“I love being here and doing whatever I can to help this team win,” Bonnafon said.
And the sophomore is doing just that for the Cardinals. A quarterback at heart, Bonnafon won the starting position coming out of fall camp and there were high expectations from the coaching staff heading into the Auburn game.
But as Bonnafon said recently, “things didn’t work out.”
Freshman Lamar Jackson finished the Auburn game after Bonnafon struggled to move the offense and he hasn’t started a game since then. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t a huge part of this team’s current success.
Bonnafon is now in the role of Mr. Everything. He’s lined up at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and even in the slot. He’s run the ball, handed off and last week against Virginia he threw for a touchdown pass.
“I tell him he’s like the sixth man on a basketball team,” offensive coordinator Garrick McGee said. “He’s supposed to go out there and make it happen.”
Bonnafon is making it happen and doing it with a smile on his face.
U of L coach Bobby Petrino said he’s “so proud” of how Bonnafon has not only handled the situation but helped the Cardinals win six of their last seven games.
“It's not too hard," Bonnafon said. "Growing up I did this fairly often on different teams I played on. It's not too big of a transition. I enjoy it a lot just to be so versatile and be able to play so many different positions to help the offense and broaden our scheme. Whatever I can do to help the team move the ball down to the end zone and get six points, I'm willing to do that.”
It’s been a long road for Bonnafon. As a player one of the most important things a coach can ask for is a spirit of hard work, and a desire to succeed not only for himself but also for his team and Reggie has become the definition of that very idea.
As a true freshman quarterback, Bonnafon was pressed into service when Will Gardner went down with an injury on two occasions. He completed 50.8 percent of his passes for 864 yards on the season.
And that came with a heavy heart.
A little over a year ago, Bonnafon lost his father to a heart attack, while almost simultaneously getting the starting position at quarterback for the Cardinals. He didn’t make the trip to Miami for the Florida International game because of the funeral. It was that game when Gardner went down and his number was called.
One week later, Bonnafon was 16 of 32 for 252 yards in a win over Wake Forest. He won on the road the next week at Syracuse and later in the season led the Cardinals to the 31-28 victory at Notre Dame.
“He made some big plays for us as a freshman,” Petrino would say. “And he’ll continue to make big plays for us.”
Now, it’s just in a different role.
Louisville started 0-3 but has since won six of seven and Bonnafon and his new, expanded role is a big reason. Heading into Saturday’s game at Pittsburgh, Bonnafon is fourth on the team with 162 yards rushing and has caught seven passes for 88 yards. He threw a 20-yard TD pass to Jaylen Smith last week.
“Whatever he can do to help our team win,” McGee said. “(Bonnafon’s) job is to run out on the field and ignite our team. I think he’s taking pride in it.”
McGee, who noted Jackson is now in a similar role as a situational guy since Kyle Bolin took over the starting position two weeks ago, said not every player could switch to the role Bonnafon has this season and be successful – or happy.
“Well I think he’s a tremendous kid, tremendous athlete, tremendous competitor,” McGee said. “Him and Lamar (Jackson) are really good friends, they really enjoy being out there together. And then I think Reggie just really wants to do whatever he can to help us win. Just whatever it takes to win the game, you know he’s for. He’s just an amazing kid.”
McGee goes on about Bonnafon: “He has great family support, I think it helps that he’s from here, because most of his family is here in town, they see him at the hotel the night before the game, just talking making sure he’s doing well, his mom spends a lot of time here, she’s a tremendous lady, always focused on making sure that Reggie is doing well in school first, making sure he has not forgotten the reason he is here and I think that’s what keeps him grounded, keeps him humble. And then he’s just a really good football player, wants to see this program do well.”
Bonnafon has embraced the role and is remembering his father, Wallace.
“I think he’d be proud,” Bonnafon said with a smile. “I know he’s watching down over me. I’m just doing what I can to help the team."